Putting to good use his seven years of past service as a partner in a legal firm that defended large self-insured employers and insurance companies, Boxer & Gerson Workers’ Compensation Attorney Justin Litvack was one of four attorneys chosen to participate in a recent seminar entitled “Secrets From the Other Side.”
The morning-long discussion was organized by the California Applicant Attorneys Association, and was intended to shed light on common defense tactics that seek to deny or delay benefits to deserving injured workers. It was held at the Berkeley Marina Hotel, and attracted some 150 fellow attorneys and other industry professionals.
Litvack’s previous work on the defense side of the table eventually led him to realize that workers too often got the short end of decisions, their injuries minimized and awards not commensurate with the nature and extent of their disabilities. He decided to parlay that experience into becoming an effective advocate on their behalf, more deeply informed than he otherwise would have been in how to counter defense team strategies. He joined Boxer & Gerson in 2012.
Litvack is a Bay Area native who hails from a family of legal professionals. His father is a retired administrative law judge for the National Labor Relations Board.
After earning his bachelor’s degree at the University of Washington, he graduated from law school at the University of Santa Clara, where he served as editor of the Law Review before graduating in 2005.
The Mexican Consulate of San Francisco is taking its information-packed seminars for immigrant populations on the road this Saturday with a major assist from Boxer & Gerson and its bilingual Spanish-speaking attorney Maria Sager. The consulate’s presentation at St. Peter Martyr Church in the East Bay town of Pittsburg will feature a number of expert speakers addressing topics that include immigration counseling, passport processing assistance, and information on voting, consular registration, and worker rights. Prominent among the latter will be Sager’s presentation on workers’ compensation law, which will take place from 10 a.m. until noon.
The day will kick off at 9 a.m. and conclude at noon in the church on 740 Black Diamond St. in Pittsburg. All the proceedings will be in Spanish, and there is no cost to attendees.
These “mobile consulates” serve the purpose of outreach to those in distant locales throughout Northern California who would find it difficult to find their way into San Francisco for consular assistance and information. They have proven to be a welcome service in outlying communities, where up to 200 participants have attended in the past. Sager herself crosses the Bay Bridge into San Francisco once a month to make a similar presentation at the consulate, which serves as a nerve center for the many complex issues that are swirling around immigration at this time in the United States.
In a case that took more than four years and contained no small number of legal complications, Boxer & Gerson, LLP Associate Attorney Jenny Jerez recently achieved the most important number of all as far as her client was concerned: $637,787. That’s the sum negotiated at mediation and awarded to a Daly City man who suffered a debilitating back injury in 2012 while on duty as a manager in a Sausalito bar.
The mediator was agreed to by both parties in a case that, had it gone to court, risked an even more costly outcome for the defendant, the American International Insurance Group (AIG). “The defendant pays all mediator costs, so when they consented to mediation, I knew they were serious abut settling,” said Jerez. “Then it became a matter of writing mediation briefs and laying out our case, which for my client involved two different injuries.”
The case was greatly complicated by the fact that Jerez’s client had suffered a previous back injury in 1987. Previous injuries to the same body part are always reviewed in great detail by defendants and their medical experts for their possible relationship to a subsequent injury. Awards are lessened to the degree, expressed in percentage terms, that the court decides the previous injury is responsible for the plaintiff’s disability.
“Though my client is now totally disabled, getting a 100% disability award with a prior injury in his background was impossible. He does have a chance, however, to get a 100% disability through another mechanism, the state-run Subsequent Injuries Benefits Trust Fund. My colleague here, Frank Russo, is pursuing that case on my client’s behalf.”
Jerez joined Boxer & Gerson in 2011 after previously running her own law practice and serving as an associate in another firms with a workers’ compensation emphasis. She is a fluent Spanish speaker who immigrated to the U.S. with her family from her native El Salvador as a young child.
An Antioch sheet metal worker who fell off a ladder while working on a roof and severely injured his back in 2007 finally saw justice rendered in his case last month in front of the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board in Oakland. His $1.4 million award came in a settlement negotiated by Bert Arnold, a Boxer & Gerson, LLP Partner and Certified Workers’ Compensation Specialist. Arnold took the case on in August, 2009 after the man had come up empty in previous attempts to be compensated for his workplace injury. He was 49 at the time, and the decade that had passed between his injury and the award stood as final vindication for the many difficulties he had endured.
“He was terribly disabled, so he couldn’t work at his old job anymore, and he didn’t have much else by way of employable skills,” said Arnold. “The chances of anyone hiring him again were slim, and the Qualified Medical Evaluator employed by the state to review his injury hadn’t done him justice. We had to call doctors, vocational experts and others to report about how severe his situation was. It was a complex case that went longer than most, but we finally got him the compensation he deserved.”
Arnold’s legal career began in 1986 after his graduation from San Francisco School of Law. He joined Boxer & Gerson in 1999 and became a partner in 2005.
His wider activity in the legal field includes serving as president of the California Applicants’ Attorneys Association (CAAA) in 2015. The organization works to reform the state’s workers’ compensation system and thereby help injured workers obtain just compensation and return to work whenever possible. More recently, he took on the role of the organization’s legislative chair, which promotes the interests of injured workers among Sacramento lawmakers.
Regularly named as a Northern California “Super Lawyer” in surveys by San Francisco magazine, Arnold also makes regular presentations at conferences and seminars for attorneys, doctors and other groups, for whom he details the intricacies of workers’ compensation law and the ever-changing legislation and case law that shapes its application.
Boxer & Gerson, LLP Partner and Certified Workers’ Compensation Specialist Maria Sager will be returning to her law school alma mater on March 22 when she joins two other legal professionals on a panel presentation discussing workers’ compensation law for Golden Gate University School of Law students. The two-and-a-half-hour morning discussion will also include San Francisco-based Defense Attorney Elizabeth Furlow and Judge Sharon Velzy from the Van Nuys District Office of the California State Department of Industrial Relations.
The panelists’ pro bono appearance is part of a long-running program of the State Bar Workers’ Compensation Executive Committee and its Community Outreach Subcommittee. One of the committee’s goals is to engage in educational activities that enhance the knowledge of workers’ comp law among all its stakeholders: employers, businesses, workers, the legal profession and the wider public. Sager served as past chair of the subcommittee, currently serves as a member, and has been instrumental in helping to stage and participate in these panel discussion events in various venues around the state.
The panelists will provide interested law students from Golden Gate and neighboring law schools with a wide-ranging overview of workers’ compensation law. Topics will include the law’s historical roots, its application, insurance requirements, types of injuries it covers, and issues such as distinguishing independent contractors from employees, and how workers’ comp law applies or does not to both groups.
Judge Sharon Velzy began her legal career as a criminal defense attorney for the indigent before becoming a workers’ compensation attorney for the State of California. She has been a sitting judge at the Van Nuys District Office since 2012, engages in regular guest lecturing and currently is on the board for the Workers’ Compensation Section of the State Bar Executive Committee. She is also the past recipient of the Wiley M. Manuel Award honoring her pro bono work on behalf of the poor.
Elizabeth Furlow is a workers’ compensation defense attorney in the San Francisco office of Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith LLP. She is a graduate of San Francisco School of Law and San Francisco State University.
Maria Sager graduated from Golden Gate University School of Law in 1998 and joined Boxer & Gerson in 2003. She was named a partner in 2011. Sager is among the bilingual attorneys and other staff members who serve Spanish-speaking clientele for the firm.
In addition to her statewide presentations, Sager also participates in monthly radio interviews in Spanish on San Francisco radio station KIQI, where she discusses workers’ compensation law, immigrant rights, and related topics while also responding to live phone calls in the latter part of the show.
Boxer & Gerson, LLP is one of multiple financial sponsors of a “Know Your Rights” workshop for immigrants and refugees taking place Saturday, March 11 at the Fruitvale San Antonio Senior Center in Oakland. The two-hour workshops will cover the same material in morning (10 a.m. to noon) and afternoon (1 p.m. to 3 p.m.) sessions, so that attendees can better fit the event into their schedules.
The workshop was conceived as a concrete and supportive response by local human service agencies to the fear and uncertainty engendered by recent crackdowns on undocumented immigrant populations and those whom officials may suspect to be so. It will offer information and instruction, do’s and don’ts, about what to do in the event of a raid or deportation threat by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers on one’s self, family member or friend.
The event reflects longstanding, explicit commitments by Alameda and many other counties in California to do everything possible to ensure the human and legal rights of U.S. residents, regardless of their immigration status. It is being supported by a number of Bay Area city and county governments, politicians, religious organizations, labor groups and others. Boxer & Gerson, the largest workers’ compensation attorney firm representing injured employees in Northern California, was invited to support the event by the Alameda Labor Council, longtime associates in the struggle for workers’ rights.
Boxer & Gerson Associate Attorney Andrew Levine enjoyed the experience of using case law precedent set by his colleague and firm co-founder Michael Gerson to settle a workers’ compensation case in January. The case involved an East Bay man who was injured in a slip-and-fall at the bakery where he was employed.
Levine secured a $115,000 settlement for his client in the case, which stands as almost a textbook example of the intricacies of workers’ compensation law.
Based on a precedent successfully argued by Gerson in 2013, Levine convinced the evaluator in his client’s case that the injuries to both the man’s hips should be added together to determine the full extent of his disability. In workers’ compensation law, a 10% disability in one body part and 10% in another body part combines not to a total of 20%, but to 19% instead. Since higher levels of disability correspond to increased compensation, the total figure is a matter of vital concern. The subtraction of a mere 1% when different body parts are added together may sound minor, but at higher levels of total disability such as 70%, that reduction can add up greatly over the course of years.
Historically, the law has tried to limit impairment levels for injuries to multiple body parts whenever possible. But in his 2013 case, Gerson succeeded in establishing that “contra-lateral” (opposite side) injured body parts could be totaled in their entirety if a doctor deems it to be the most accurate reflection of an injured worker’s medical impairment. Levine invoked that case as the basis for his client, and the doctor agreed.
Levine came to Boxer & Gerson in 2015 after gaining valuable earlier experience defending insurance companies and others against workers’ compensation claims. He earned his undergraduate degree at UCLA with a double major in history and French before earning a scholarship to the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York City. He then returned to California to pass the State Bar exam and began practicing law in 2013.
Boxer & Gerson, LLP’s personal injury attorneys Gary Roth and Eric Ritigstein teamed up recently to win an $896,468 jury award in Alameda County Superior Court for a severely injured California Highway Patrol officer who was sideswiped by a car while traveling on Highway 580 in September 2016. The case went to jury trial after Roth and Ritigstein rejected the opposing counsel’s settlement offer of $115,000.
The veteran officer was thrown from his bike while traveling at freeway speeds. He suffered a concussion and was left with intense head, neck and back pain, along with an inability to swivel his neck. This latter condition made it impossible for him to resume motorcycle duty upon his return to work. He had been much decorated through his career and had served as a training officer and mentor for motorcycle officers just entering the ranks.
Speaking of his colleague and lead counsel Roth, Ritigstein observed, “Gary did a masterful job in cross-examining the opposing counsel’s medical expert, who had said the officer should be completely recovered from his injuries after three months. He claimed the officer’s neck limitations were due to simple aging, though the officer was only 41 years old.”
The accident occurred when a young driver made an unsafe lane change next to the officer on the highway just west of Dublin. The impact sent the officer skidding along the pavement, resulting in the severe scraping of his tool belt, badge and helmet.
“He was unconscious at the scene and had to be rushed to the hospital,” said Roth. “He then had continuing memory issues, including vocabulary recall and executive function problems, for many months after the accident. He also has a wife and three children at home, and he can no longer do the work he loved doing.”
Roth and Ritigstein work closely together to handle a good portion of the personal injury cases coming to Boxer & Gerson. Roth joined the firm in 2007 and became a partner early in 2014, just as Ritigstein joined the firm as an associate. They both maintain their own caseloads while occasionally joining forces when it proves advantageous in particular cases.
The plight of immigrant Latino workers will be the focus of a half-day conference sponsored by the California Applicant Attorneys Association (CAAA) on February 8 at the Citizen Hotel in Sacramento. “Death, Denials & Discrimination: A Conversation” will bring together a dozen distinguished figures from the state’s labor, legislative and legal sectors to provide expert overviews on the challenges facing the immigrant Latino labor force.
Among those challenges are the sheer statistical realities that the 2.4 million undocumented Latino workers in California comprise about 10% of the state’s workforce, but in 2014, they accounted for 59.4% of workplace injuries and 37.8% of workplace deaths. These daunting figures suggest a unique set of circumstances not only for workers, but for the employers, legislators, attorneys and judges who must contend with the complex challenges of undocumented workers suffering injuries on the job.
Three panel discussions at the conference will address these and other concerns facing both undocumented and documented Latino workers.
“Latino Workers’ Injuries & Deaths” will feature panelists Arturo S. Rodriguez, president of the United Farmworkers; Kent Wong, director of the UCLA Labor Center; Barry Broad, legislative advocate for the California Teamsters Public Affairs Council, and Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights.
The “Rights of the Undocumented” panel that follows will feature Assemblymember Adam Gray (D-Merced), an expert on workplace issues; Doug Bloch, political director of the Teamsters Union Joint Council 7; Joe Capurro, an attorney and advocate whose 35 years of experience in workers’ compensation law have included appearing before the California Supreme Court; and Laura Polstein, the immigration senior staff attorney with the workers’ rights and Latino support organization Centro Legal de la Raza.
The concluding discussion, “Tearing Down Walls,” will include panelists Maria Elena Durazo, the general international vice president of immigration and diversity for the labor union “UNITE HERE”; Thomas A. Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund; and Bill Herreras, an attorney with 40 years of experience in workers’ compensation law who has also argued cases before the California Supreme Court.
Boxer & Gerson Partner Maria Sager, chair of the conference’s organizing committee and long active in legal issues affecting Latino immigrants, will offer opening remarks to kick off the day. Sager also chairs the Board of Directors of the Latino legal services and support group Centro Legal de la Raza, conducts a monthly radio interview show on workers’ rights on Spanish radio station KIQI in San Francisco, and visits the Mexican Consulate in San Francisco monthly to give pro bono presentations on workers’ compensation law to immigrants.
As a Spanish speaker herself, Sager has represented thousands of Spanish-speaking clients over her nearly 18-year legal career, and is thus in a unique position to understand the fears and concerns of immigrants during this turbulent political time. She will be joined briefly on the podium during opening remarks by Rodrigo Baez, Consul of Protection & Legal Affairs for the Sacramento Mexican Consulate. She will also play a 2-minute video produced in both English and Spanish that discusses the benefits even undocumented workers are entitled to when injured on the job. The video can be downloaded anytime at vimeo.com/caaaworkcomp.
The idea for this conference was hatched in discussions last year between Boxer & Gerson Partner Bert Arnold, who recently ended his year-long term as president of CAAA, and his colleague Sager, whose experience on the State Bar Workers’ Compensation Executive Committee and other activities regarding immigrant rights has seen her heavily involved in workplace issues involving Latinos. When Arnold and the CAAA decided that one critical goal would be to heighten the activity and profile of the organization’s Latino Caucus, he turned to Sager for assistance. She then parlayed much of her experience with the State Bar and her many contacts in the field of immigration and workers’ rights to join forces with the Latino Caucus in the creation of the upcoming conference.
Initial funding for the conference was provided personally by the CAAA Board of Directors last year when the idea was first discussed in earnest at a July board meeting. A subsequent and separate collection among the CAAA’s Latino Caucus was to be donated to the California Legislature’s Latino Caucus in furtherance of that group’s goals.
For more information and registration, go to latinoworkcomp.eventbrite.com
The San Francisco Maritime Trades Port Council invited union members and friends aboard the World War II era cargo ship Jeremiah O’Brien for a discussion about the future of health care costs and coverage on January 11. The luncheon event featured San Francisco Labor Council Executive Director Tim Paulson, who addressed the status of health care affordability as the Trump Administration prepares to take over the reins of government.
Boxer & Gerson Partner Dennis Popalardo was in the audience as Paulson discussed the implications of President-Elect Trump’s plans to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as “Obamacare.” Given the dramatic impact of health care costs on union pension funds, unions are closely monitoring congressional deliberations in Washington D.C., with an eye toward adequate cost containment while also maintaining the coverage gains that have been realized under the ACA.
The Jeremiah O’Brien, named after an American Revolutionary War ship captain, survived an engagement at the Battle of Normandy and eventually came to be docked at Pier 45 in San Francisco. It was built in just 56 days in June, 1943.
(Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, from the Carol M. Highsmith Archive)