Boxer & Gerson Partners Bert Arnold and Maria Sager headed south to Stanford University last week to discuss workers’ compensation with a group of shop stewards from Local 2007 of the Service Employees International Union. The union represents university employees in food services, landscaping, maintenance, custodial services, carpentry and many other jobs.
Shop stewards serve as the leaders of individual worker groups who frequently attend advanced training and educational sessions regarding union activities, rights and responsibilities.
Bert Arnold and Maria Sager
Arnold and Sager teamed up, as is often the case with such visits, to present an overview of worker’s compensation and then more specific information on disability and permanent disability. Stewards take what they have learned back to the workplace to serve as resources for union rank-and-file.
“After the presentation, we were invited back to make another presentation to regular members of Local 2007,” said Sager. “There is a whole world of procedures and protocols to follow when filing a workers’ compensation claim, and the more workers know, the better chance they will have of a successful claim if they are unfortunate enough to suffer an injury in the workplace. We’re always happy to make presentations that will serve that purpose.”
Local 2007 represents workers at both Stanford and the University of Santa Clara. The international union is comprised of just under 1.9 million members who work in more than 100 different occupations in the United States and Canada..
Boxer & Gerson’s Dikla Dolev secured a $3.25 million settlement last week for a man whose forklift fell off a truck while he was working in 2002. The now 64-year-old Vallejo man has suffered ever since with intractable back and neck pain and catastrophic results from a subsequent failed surgery in 2007.
After the surgery, the $499 weekly workers’ compensation check he had been living on was reduced to $150 a week as his employer’s insurance company decided to contest the extent of its client’s liability for the permanent disability caused by the injury.
“This is one of the saddest cases I have ever come across,” says Dolev, who took the case on in August 2016. Boxer & Gerson co-founder Stewart Boxer and Partner Dennis Popalardo had represented the man in previous phases of the case stretching back 15 years.
“The man is essentially paralyzed from the waist down and in terrible pain, his livelihood gone, fighting depression, going in and out of facilities trying to find some solution. Just miserable. No one would trade for his circumstances for $3.25 million or any amount. I just hope he can live out his days in some kind of comfort.”
The case had wound its way through the workers’ comp system in the kind of slow-moving timeline that can occur when arduous rehabilitation programs prove fruitless, surgical efforts fail, and insurance companies mount a vigorous defense attempting to deflect responsibility and limit the amount of compensation due to a victim.
Three years ago, the insurance company offered a $1.2 million settlement, then firmly rejected the $2 million counteroffer Boxer & Gerson had proffered on behalf of its client.
“He essentially has a lifetime pension that will now allow him some peace and access to the care he will always need,” says Dolev. “We don’t see benefits like this very often in workers’ comp cases. It takes a really bad injury to get to this point, but anyone seeing him would understand. This was a very emotional case and settlement conference. It was hard not to take it home with me, so I’m just gratified we were able to win him at least a good financial outcome.”
The Oakland workers’ compensation community and many others showed up in force last week to support the city’s disadvantaged children, and the result was a record haul of toys and cash raised for the Oakland Mayor’s Toy Drive’s Ninth Annual Opening Reception.
The gala event drew some 250 people to Boxer & Gerson’s downtown offices in the Rotunda Building, where the price of admission was either five unwrapped non-violent toys or $50 that would go to the purchase of such toys. Attendees were treated to finger foods, refreshments and musical entertainment that included the Pacific Boychoir Academy, the Piedmont Troubadours, and the George Spencer Trio.
By evening’s end, attendees had contributed 39 boxes of toys and $32,526 (along with one red tricycle), all of it destined to join other citywide efforts that are expected to ensure that more than 5,000 Oakland children will receive toys this holiday season who may otherwise have gone without. The reception totals far outdid last year’s 32 boxes of toys and $18,000 in cash donations.
Fortunately for event organizers, a large contingent of Oakland Police cadets with young healthy backs saw to it that a good portion of the toys were transported to a warehouse where they would await distribution in the days ahead. (See photo below.)
Also lending huge hands were the Oakland Mayor’s office, the city’s unionized employees, the Oakland Fire Department and Oakland’s own A’s and Warriors sports teams.
The Oakland Mayor’s Toy Drive dates back to 1979 and the Lionel Wilson administration. All five subsequent mayors since then have lent their support and prestige to the effort, which got a small boost in 2009 when Boxer & Gerson’s Maria Sager got the inspiration to conduct an in-house reception for employees who brought toys to contribute to the citywide effort.
That modest beginning has since become a huge boost to the Toy Drive as the opening reception grew into a public event that has been energetically embraced by the workers’ compensation community and other Boxer & Gerson friends. .
Current mayor Libby Schaaf was an honored guest at this year’s reception, as was Interim Deputy Fire Chief Melinda Drayton and Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board Presiding Judge Gene Lam. Al Lujan of the City of Oakland, widely hailed as “the heart and soul” of the Toy Drive for the past 16 years, was an honored speaker as he bowed out to let others carry on the tradition he has done so much to promote.
Healthy young backs and high ideals made the Oakland police cadets the perfect candidates to help transport toys to the warehouse.
Boxer & Gerson, LLP has once again earned top Tier 1 rankings for Oakland law firms in two different practice areas by U.S. News – Best Lawyers® for the Eighth Edition of “Best Law Firms.” The firm earned Tier 1 recognition in the workers’ compensation area for the third consecutive year, while its product liability services earned Tier 1 ranking for the first time.Product liability is a subset of the firm’s personal injury practice area, headed up by Partners Gary Roth and Associate Attorney Eric Ritigstein.Meanwhile, the remaining nearly 20 attorneys in the firm practice in the workers’ compensation area, making it the largest worker’s comp firm in Northern California.
In addition, three of the firm’s attorneys—Co-Founding Partner Michael Gerson, Managing Partner John Harrigan, and recently retired Partner John Anton, were honored individually as Best Lawyers® for 2018. Gerson and Harrigan were named on the claimants’ side in workers’ compensation, while Anton was honored on the plaintiffs’ side in personal injury and product liability.
The U.S. News – Best Lawyers “Best Law Firms” rankings are based on a rigorous evaluation process that includes the collection of client and lawyer evaluations, peer review from leading attorneys in their field, and review of additional information provided by law firms as part of the formal submission process. This year, the rankings incorporated 7.3 million evaluations of more than 54,000 individual leading lawyers collected by Best Lawyers® in its most recent annual survey.
The survey solicited feedback from clients on firms’ practice groups, level of expertise, responsiveness, understanding of a business and its needs, cost-effectiveness, civility, and whether they would refer another client to the firm.
Boxer & Gerson Managing Partner John Harrigan once again noted the firm’s appreciation for the recognition by a respected third party.
“The fact that these awards recognize specific feedback from clients and peers in the legal profession is of course gratifying,” he said. “No one ever thinks about winning awards when they’re faced with the challenge of simply handling cases for clients one by one. The most important award is when we have simply done collective good work for our clients.”
Boxer & Gerson Associate Attorney Jenny Jerez recently assumed the presidency of the California Applicants’ Attorneys Association (CAAA) East Bay Chapter after having served as the organization’s vice-president over the past year.
The statewide organization, founded in 1966, engages in legal, policy and educational advocacy activities in the workers’ compensation field from its headquarters near the State Capitol in Sacramento. From there, it monitors court cases and legislation that affect working people in the state, while also maintaining 18 local chapters.
In her new position, Jerez will organize and chair monthly meetings of her local chapter, which is based in Oakland but draws members from throughout the East Bay. The meetings feature speakers who address issues relevant to the workers’ comp field. Attendees receive continuing education credit for these educational presentations.
The chapter also supports the aims of the statewide organization in any way it can, and hosts an annual holiday party for its members.
Jerez was born in El Salvador and immigrated with her family to the United States as a young child. One of multiple native Spanish speakers on the Boxer & Gerson staff, she operated her own firm upon graduation from Golden Gate University School of Law. She joined Boxer & Gerson in 2011.
Boxer & Gerson Associate Attorney Justin Litvack shared the dais with a workers’ compensation judge last weekend at the California State Bar Sections Convention, helping to unpack a state law that has left many workers uncompensated for secondary effects of a work-related injury.
The program, entitled “Truth & Compensable Consequences: An Update on Labor Code 4660.1,” addressed a law passed by the California Legislature in 2013 that made it more difficult for workers to be compensated for sexual dysfunction, sleep disorders or psychological injuries that arose secondarily to another main injury suffered on the job.
An example might be a severe back injury that leads to a person’s clinical depression or inability to engage in sexual relations. Since the 2013 law went into effect, workers seeking compensation for these secondary injuries have faced far more significant roadblocks to an award than was previously the case.
Litvack joined San Diego Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board Judge Linda Atcherley on the two-person panel as they addressed the nuances of the law. The “update” in the program’s title referred to the fact that more than four years after the law went into effect, it now has significant case law history that has revealed various avenues by which attorneys can still win judgements for secondary injuries.
“The law provides for exceptions,” Litvack says. “It’s a matter of being up to speed on what those are, and determining whether they might apply to your client’s case.”
Litvack has long been active in State Bar activities, joining in 2005 and assuming a role on its Workers’ Compensation Executive Committee last December. The committee meets approximately six times per year and engages in a wide range of educational and outreach activities. It includes among its members Litvack’s Boxer & Gerson colleague Maria Sager.
The Member Action Team (MAT), a special contingent from the University of California’s largest employee union, Local 3299 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), invited Boxer & Gerson Partner Maria Sager to address a group conference for the third consecutive year last month in Los Angeles. Sager, a certified workers’ compensation specialist, discussed various aspects of her specialty and its application to work injuries across the 10-campus UC system represented by Local 3299. The local is the largest employee union in the university’s workforce, representing some 24,000 workers.
Sager took the occasion to present a workers’ compensation overview, benefits discussion, and a review of the complexities of injury evaluation by physicians in the workers’ comp system, among other matters. Her audience included MAT members from UC San Francisco, Berkeley, Davis, Los Angeles, San Diego, Irvine, and the UC Center in Sacramento.
The MAt conducts an annual conference alternating between northern and southern California locations. Next year’s conference is in Oakland.
Nationally, the AFSCME represents 1.6 million workers, making it one of the largest unions in the United States.
Maria Sager, second row, right, with group of MAT members at annual conference