For more than 30 years Beverly Hills-based Attorney William Shernoff has hauled big insurance companies into court for failure to pay claims of policy holders…and has won big verdicts. The fight continues as he takes on heavyweight health insurance companies that now more than ever are denying patient medical claims and canceling policies after people become sick and need medical treatment. He is credited with establishing and pioneering the law of Insurance Bad Faith in California.
Interviews by Suzanne Takowsky & Zandra Palma; Written by Suzanne Takowsky; Photos by David Sobel
Are you pushed to the wall because your medical insurance company has you by the short hairs? You’re not alone. Millions face a dead end when claiming what is rightfully theirs from insurance companies: Prompt payment for their medical services; fair evaluations of medical conditions; proper care and treatment for life-threatening illness, or catastrophic accident injury; coverage for long-term treatment, disability, or wrongful death due to the negligence of another; each one devastating for those involved. So, why is it that here in AMERICA people must bury their sorrow and over-ride their health problems, in order to fight with their insurance companies over the help and treatment they need? Meet the man who challenges all those underhanded tactics by all of those monstrous health insurance companies—and wins! Los Angeles, and now Beverly Hills-based attorney, William Shernoff.
Senior/managing partner of Shernoff Bidart Darras & Echeverria LLP—a law firm known as the ‘bad faith insurance lawyers’ Shernoff heads a team of 10 premier litigation attorneys who get victims what is legally theirs. And, forget that ungodly ‘hourly-rate-fee’ nightmare that most people face in litigation. Shernoff and his team don’t fool around; they go to court to win. If they don’t win…they don’t get paid.
Shernoff’s mission to bust wide open all the illegal practices of insurance companies began in 1971, with his first insurance case. It was a brutal, eye- opening realization of the corruption behind insurance giants, and the under- handed, strong-arm, dishonest tactics they did to get out of paying claims of policy holders; the worst being to cancel policies of critically ill people clinging to the hope that a correct diagnosis by qualified doctors and proper medical treatment would save their lives. There was no going back. Shernoff took off taking insurance bad faith cases and pioneering this new field of law. In 1979, he made international headlines by winning a landmark case for the MGM Grand Hotel, in Las Vegas ($86 million settlement), involving failure to pay insurance proceeds due to a fire at the hotel. That same year the California Supreme Court handed down a record-setting punitive damage award for another of his cases (Egan v. Mutual of Omaha). The landmark decision was so substantial it set a precedent for all of the ‘bad faith‘ insurance disputes to this very day.
Another high-profile case that thrust Shernoff into the international spotlight: a jury awarded his clients (the American Samoa Government) $100 million for devastation caused by a hurricane. Then, the granddaddy of law- suits was when Shernoff represented California Holocaust survivors who claimed life insurance benefits were due them from European insurance companies. Life insurance proceeds were never paid the beneficiaries of those who died in concentration camps. Shernoff’s lawsuits on behalf of the survivors spawned a five billion dollar settlement which was distributed to survivors worldwide. He went on to receive the 2002 Trial Lawyers of the Year honor by the California Consumer Attorneys Association for the headline making, unprecedented case.
A documentary of his Holocaust case was filmed and purchased by Sony pictures. The film “On Moral Ground” is in development for a theatrical movie for Sony pictures. Michael Moore the mega filmmaker/director consulted with Shernoff and credited him for working on the documentary, “Sicko”.
But it’s more than just the high-profile cases that have earned Shernoff a reputation for helping the underdog. It’s his everyday fight-for-life cases for people like you and me that have him fighting mad. Like the case of Elmer Norman, whose $48 medical insurance gripe uncovered a horrific fraud that brought down a $4.5 million jury verdict. Or, Mary Frazier, a financially struggling woman in Watts whose $12,000 life insurance claim dispute with Metropolitan Life, turned into $8 million settlement for her. Shernoff’s honors and awards are a leg-long list that include his name on The Best Lawyers in America, every year since its first edition in 1983. He was named ‘Super Lawyer’ by Law & Politics and Los Angeles Magazines in 2004 and, in September of this year was once again on the the Best-of-the-Best Hot Sheet as one of the 100 Most Influential Attorneys in California. He has appeared on the pages of the New York Times, Wall St. Journal and Time Magazine more times than even he can count, and his television appearances include shows such as, 60 Minutes. With his original location in Claremont (the first office that he opened in 1975), he also has an office in Beverly Hills. It stands as a central location for clients within the greater Los Angeles area.
When not in Superman-Mode righting wrongs, he is with his wife Jilda Shernoff, and their six year old daughter, Summer. The couple have been married 10 years, and met when Jilda was a real estate agent in Beverly Hills, and sold him a home. The two were married 10 months later. Jilda is bright, charming, adorable, beautiful and no doubt the life of the party with a wicked sense of humor. She jokes that when he bought that house he had no idea that she came with it. They are the cutest couple and the after- noon that I spent with them at their elegant 12,000 square foot home in Beverly Hills, was hysterical with all the joking and playing around. It’s apparent that they have a great time and enjoy each other’s company.
S.Takowsky: What’s life like married to such an on-the-go, high-profile guy?
Z.Palma: What led you to law?
Z.Palma: Why open an office in Beverly Hills?
Z.Palma: You’re known for high-profile clients such as all the drama surrounding Heath Ledger’s life insurance case.
S.Takowsky: Being in the business of beauty you couldn’t have a more beautiful place to live and work than Beverly Hills.
Z.Palma: No doubt that you’ve had many troubling and hard to believe cases. Does any one in particular stand out to you?