Attorney William Shernoff


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?

Jilda Shernoff: Bill is definitely the ‘STAR’ of the family.  Life with him is never boring.
Jilda entertains frequently and her parties are truly amazing; so elaborate in fact, she was cast on the We Channel  Reality Show, “Party Mama.” On weekends when Bill is not working, the couple take off with their daughter to one of their homes (they have five) Palm Desert, Beverly Hills, Malibu, or Maui where they relax and enjoy family down time. They are in the process of purchasing a home in Las Vegas.
Jilda, formerly a premier celebrity beauty expert, is the creative force behind Jilda Beverly Hills Cosmetics.  A former fitness model turned beauty image consultant, Jilda’s beauty care/ makeup product line has captured celebrities like Eva Longoria, Beyoncé Knowles, Paris, Nicky and Kathy Hilton, Kelly Ripa, Black Eyed Peas’ Fergie and Heather Locklear to name a few.  A high- powered business woman in her own right, ironically it was Jilda’s passion for globe-trotting that launched her beauty line to one of the favorite among all ages in department stores, spas and boutiques around the world.  It was on her travels that she got a sense of what women (all ages and cultures) need to look and feel beautiful.  She developed her beauty line to meet those needs. This powerhouse couple have it all: health, wealth and happiness.  And it’s through their generous and caring support of numerous charities that they are able to help millions of others around the world live happier and healthier lives as well.


Z.Palma: What led you to law?

William Shernoff: My family lived on a farm in Wisconsin until I was old enough to go to school, and then we moved to a small town in Wisconsin (500 people) where my father practiced law.  He helped people with their legal problems, tax returns and whatever else they needed.  It was by watching him that I was prompted to follow in his footsteps.  He went to bat for those who needed help the most.  I admired that.
Helping clients sift through the maze of insurance misconduct doesn’t just happen in a courtroom.  Shernoff co-founded the National Insurance Consumer Organization (NICO), and established a consumer law program; the first of its kind in the country, at the University of Wisconsin.  He has also   authored three books for the general public: Payment Refused and Fight Back & Win and How to Make Insurance Companies Pay Your Claims.  It contains a forward by crusader for human rights and friend, Ralph Nader.  Shernoff then co-authored, Insurance Bad Faith Litigation, a legal textbook based on the breach of good faith/fair dealings by insurance companies.  All of the books are step-by-step guides showing consumers how to make claims and collect from insurance companies.


Z.Palma: Why open an office in Beverly Hills?

William Shernoff: I moved to Beverly Hills because I got married and my wife is from Beverly Hills.  We love the city and our daughter attends private school here.  I decided to open an office in Beverly Hills because I live here.  I do the same types of law that I do at the other offices, in fact we get more claims from businesses in this area.  People seem to find our offices when their other options are exhausted.   
Fighting for the rights and well-being of people is a running theme in the Shernoff family.  Among others, Jilda supports the  Elizabeth Glaser AIDS foundation and Race to Erase MS.  Shernoff has three sons from a previous marriage; the oldest living in Estonia, recently passed the California Bar and is headed to California to practice law with his father.  Shernoff’s middle son is a professor of Educational Psychology at Northern Illinois University, and featured in Newsweek magazine.  His youngest son lives in Amsterdam and is a graphic designer.


Z.Palma: You’re known for high-profile clients such as all the drama surrounding Heath Ledger’s life insurance case.  

William Shernoff: We don’t look for high- profile clients, but because insurance is such a broad topic, when it affects someone they look for a firm who knows about it.  Few attorneys specialize in insurance law the way we do.  We went to court to fight for Heath’s Ledger’s beneficiary (his daughter Matilda).  She deserved every- thing that her father wanted her to have.

S.Takowsky: Being in the business of beauty you couldn’t have a more beautiful place to live and work than Beverly Hills. 

Jilda Shernoff: Beverly Hills is a small town.  We aren’t talking about L.A. or Hollywood or Brentwood; we are talking about Beverly Hills, and there is no place like it.  It has a special feel, and it’s like one big neighborhood.  Everyone knows everyone.  We all go to the same places and it’s very family oriented.  We love it.   


Z.Palma: No doubt that you’ve had many troubling and hard to believe cases.  Does any one in particular stand out to you?

William Shernoff:  A man was a roofer with a disability policy that paid $300 a month, if he was disabled due to an accident.  And, it only paid out for two years after the disability began.   He fell from a roof and became disabled, and yet even for such a small amount the insurance company said the accident didn’t cause his disability, but illness was the reason for his back problem.  The case went to the California Supreme Court after I won a 5 million dollar verdict for him in a trial court, and established the “Insurance Bad Faith”  law in California.  The law states that if an insurance company doesn’t treat you fairly on a claim, they are liable not only for the claim, but for causing emotional and mental stress because they refused to pay.  They are also liable for punitive damages, if the court finds that they treated you with malice or oppression.

Related Stories:

  • No Related Posts

Speak Your Mind