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CA Public Employee Recovered $2M For Serious Injuries with Help of Corsigilia, McMahon and Allard

For public school teachers who have been seriously injured while working, a landmark decision recently handed down by a retired Santa Clara County judge opened up a whole new source of compensation.

In what is believed to be the first successfully litigated claim of its kind, Ms. Shaun Egbert, then a 53-year -old behavioral specialist for mentally challenged children, who at the time was working for Scotts Valley Unified School District, claimed to have sustained serious personal injuries stemming from a high speed head-on collision which occurred on May 2, 2007 on Highway 1 just north of Santa Cruz, California.

As a result of this collision, Ms. Egbert was airlifted and hospitalized at Stanford Medical Center for an extended period of time for treatment of following injuries: shattered wrist, severed tendons in her ankle, broken upper leg and a frozen shoulder, also known as adhesive capsulitis. After two surgeries were performed to put together her wrist and ankle, as well as grueling rehabilitation therapy, Ms. Egbert was finally released to return to work just about a year after the accident. Despite this, she was left with significant residual pain and limitations in her daily activities, which her treating doctors determined would be lifelong in nature.

Unfortunately, the driver of the car who was responsible for this head-on collision possessed relatively minimal insurance, so Ms. Egbert and her attorney B. Robert Allard of Corsiglia, McMahon & Allard, L.L.P. of San Jose, CA were forced to get creative to ensure that she was adequately compensated for her losses.

In response to a letter that Mr. Allard wrote to the school district, it was discovered that there was a large pool of money available to teachers like Ms. Egbert who were injured in the course and scope of their duties through the Northern California ReLiEF Fund (the “Fund”), whose stated goal is to “provide broad property and casualty programs for school districts in Northern California through fiscally responsible proactive risk management.” The Fund was created as an alternative to insurance, so, instead of paying premiums, it simply pooled monies from what is now over 380 school districts and used these monies to satisfy claims through an adjusting firm entitled Keenan and Associates of San Jose, CA (“Keenan”).

What sounded like a simple and straightforward process turned out to be just an agonizing continuation of Ms. Egbert’s ordeal. Despite a clear case of liability, horrific injuries and hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills and lost wages, Keenan and the Fund’s designated attorney Craig Farmer of Farmer, Smith and Lane of Sacramento, CA never offered a penny in settlement. Fighting Ms. Egbert “every step of the way,” the Fund disputed everything, even the very insuring instrument that it had created called a Memorandum of Coverage (“MOC”).

Thus, Ms. Egbert was forced to hire yet another attorney, specifically coverage expert Ronald J. Cook of Willoughby, Stewart and Bening of San Jose, CA, to represent her in conjunction with an arbitration to interpret the meaning of the MOC. Mr. Cook was able to persuade arbitrator Ralph Lombardi of Lombardi, Loper and Conant of Oakland, CA that, in most respects, the coverage afforded by the MOC was much more expansive than advocated by Mr. Farmer and Keenan. But that didn’t end the claim. Mr. Farmer then insisted that, despite Ms. Egbert’s victory in the “Phase I Arbitration,” she still was not entitled to compensatory damages, thus necessitating a second arbitration, this time with retired Santa Clara County Superior Court judge John Flaherty of Judicial Arbitration and Mediation Services (“JAMS”) in San Jose, CA.

After two full days of hearing, as well as extensive briefing submitted to the court, Judge Flaherty on May 6, 2009 issued an award providing that Ms. Egbert was entitled to a gross award of $2,056,000 which, after certain offsets, was reduced to $1,817,933.90.

“The decision was just, as it took into account my client’s extensive injuries and suffering, and for that we are most appreciative to Judge Flaherty for listening to all of the evidence and doing the right thing,” said attorney Bob Allard. “It is just too bad that she had to go through all of this litigation, on top of what she had already been though, because of the unreasonable positions advanced by the managers of this Fund, which was designed for this very purpose — to help out public school employees who are hurt while working.”

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