At some point in life, everyone will need a good lawyer, and a good lawyer is hard to find. Same holds true when it comes to legal matters and the building trades. You’ve got to have the right people on your side.

Organized Labor is proud to partner with some of the best personal injury lawyers in the Bay Area. We spoke with a number of top-notch attorneys to compile the following Q&A to best serve those in the Building Trades. Highlighted here are Bob Arns of the Arns Law Firm; John Harrigan, managing partner at Boxer Gerson; Jim Butler and Chris Viadro of Butler Viadro; and Matthew Kracht, trial attorney at the Veen Firm and Elinor Leary, trial team leader at the Veen Firm.

Why does a legal specialty matter?

Jim Butler of Butler Viadro, LLP: When you need a lawyer, it is important to select someone that has the appropriate expertise for your situation. You don’t want someone experimenting and/or learning on your case. By way of analogy, it would be best to hire a union journeyman electrician for an electrical project because he or she has the experience, training and tools to handle such a project. Similarly, in hiring a lawyer, you don’t want to hire a generalist that can just get the job done; you want to hire someone that has seen your situation, has a proven track record and will get it done right.

Matthew Kracht of the Veen Firm: The modern legal landscape is filled with a wide variety of specialty areas, each of which is complex and intricate, so that a degree of legal specialization is necessary. You wouldn’t want an electrician also hanging drywall and building a roof. The same is true for lawyers. The lawyer who drafted your will is likely not the best lawyer to represent you in a personal injury lawsuit involving a complex construction worksite injury. An attorney who is a “jack of all trades but master of none” does not serve his or her client well.

Bob Arns of the Arns Law Firm: Hopefully you never need a lawyer – but life throws many curve balls. The Arns Law Firm only prosecutes civil cases for individuals and specializes in (1) injury and death cases (2) consumer class actions and (3) workers’ compensation cases. The Arns Law firm never represents business or companies – only individuals. Further, every case that The Arns Law Firm prosecutes is a “contingency fee” case – we do not get paid unless we win. Every potential client should not only seek a lawyer who is specialized but who has a tremendous track record. It is guaranteed that the defendants and insurance companies will get legal specialists to attempt to defeat your case – get the best!

John Harrigan of Boxer Gerson: Law has become increasingly specialized over the years. Boxer & Gerson LLP has available attorneys Certified by The State Bar of California as specialists in Workers’ Compensation. In addition we have Civil Litigation/Personal Injury specialists and Social Security disability specialists. Basically we are a “one stop shop” for all injured union members as we handle on and off the job injuries as well as remedies for those who can’t get back to work through Social Security.

What is “personal injury” law?

Bob Arns of the Arns Law Firm: Personal Injury law involves a civil legal case brought by an individual against a company or other to recover damages for (1) economic loss including wage loss, medical expenses, and other economic items and (2) non-economic loss including loss of enjoyment of life, depression, loss of full body function and other items. The 7th Amendment of the Constitution allows civil jury trials and the law of the United States allows contingency fee lawyers. Because of the 7th Amendment and contingency fees, individuals are able to get the best lawyers and pursue full compensation. No other country has such a system. The Arns Law Firm is proud to have gotten amazing results in personal injury cases including brain damage, paraplegia, loss of both arms, quadriplegia, death and lesser personal injuries.

Chris Viadro of Butler Viadro: When someone is injured as a result of the fault of another, the injured person may have a right to sue the wrongdoer for all the money damages that flow from the harm (e.g., pain and suffering, wage loss, medical bills). Most people are aware of such a right in the context of a negligent driver or a dangerous condition on property. But, there are many, many other situations that can give rise to a personal injury lawsuit. And, under certain circumstances, these situations can even arise out of work place injuries, i.e., where someone other than the injured worker and/or a co-worker was at least partially responsible for the injury. For example, on a construction site, a personal injury case can arise when the employee of one contractor causes injury to an employee of a different contractor. Housekeeping issues, poor coordination between trades and defective equipment are just a few things that can lead to construction site personal injuries. By contrast, with a few exceptions, an injured worker is limited to a workers’ compensation claim if the workplace injury was caused by the employee or a co-worker. For this reason, it is critically important to seek out a law firm that handles both workers’ compensation and personal injury law when injured on the job so that all cases can be identified and addressed.

Matthew Kracht of the Veen Firm: Personal injury is a legal term for an injury to someone’s body, mind or emotions, as opposed to an injury to property or reputation. Typically, personal injury cases involve a harm to a person (referred to as a plaintiff), caused by conduct of another (the defendant). Sometimes, several defendants combine to play a role in causing a plaintiff’s injury. The process can be confusing and complicated, and there are deadlines and other traps for the unwary. For all these reasons, it is vitally important for someone who has suffered an injury or the death of a loved one to find an attorney who specializes in personal injury law.

How essential is a good personal injury lawyer for someone working in the Building Trades?

Matthew Kracht of the Veen Firm: High quality legal representation is essential. Often, it is not immediately clear who is responsible for a worker’s injury. A good personal injury attorney is better able to identify who is responsible, what are the best legal theories, and how to help an injured worker or his or her family recover financially for their losses. This involves mastering the law, being adept at dealing with the other side, and being able to navigate a complex court system. The right personal injury lawyer should connect with their client and work tirelessly to achieve the best result.

Bob Arns of the Arns Law Firm: The Building Trades can involve risk for workers when safety protocol is not followed. Every worker should be able to have dinner with their families at the end of every day – rather than have to be in a hospital for major injuries or worse yet, end up in a morgue. The Arns Law firm has met uncountable widows after catastrophes occurring in the Building Trades. Let’s think positively – this will never happen to you. But, let’s be prepared: you need the greatest lawyers on your side every step of the way if a tragedy occurs. We have this amazing system in our country allowing (1) jury trials in civil cases (including personal injury cases) and (2) contingency fee lawyers who only get paid if they win. Do you think for a second that the defendants and insurance companies will play fair?

John Harrigan of Boxer Gerson: Obviously one wants to obtain a Workers’ Compensation attorney for any serious injury at work but one also needs to consult with a personal injury attorney to see if there is anyone else legally at fault. This should be done ASAP as witnesses disappear and evidence is lost. Time limits to file a case (Statutes of Limitations) also vary greatly and can be as short as six months so quick action is needed.

What has been your firm’s biggest victory?

John Harrigan of Boxer Gerson: Our WC attorneys have big victories every day as each injured worker has issues dear to them that need to be resolved in their favor to the extent possible. On the personal injury front we have multiple verdicts and settlements in the multi-million dollar range but every victory is “big” to the client affected as we strive to maximize the results for each client.

Chris Viadro of Butler Viadro: It depends on how you define “biggest,” but here are a few different types and examples. We represented someone in the trades for whom we recovered nearly $12 million dollars in his civil case. That case arose out of a work site accident. Though normally extinguished by such a personal injury recovery, we preserved his workers’ compensation benefits, and we hope to get him another $2.5 million in his workers’ compensation case. In another case, we were offered $50,000 to settle a case before trial, and we achieved a $4 million dollar verdict, i.e., we obtained a result that was 80 times what the defendant was willing to pay! But, apart from such cases, we know how devastating a work injury can be, and our biggest victories are really on a daily basis when we can keep food on the table and a roof over the head of our clients through helping them with personal injury cases, workers’ compensation benefits, social security disability benefits, state disability benefits and pension issues.

Elinor Leary of the Veen Firm: That depends on how you define “victory.” Over the last 40 years, we have helped clients recover jury verdicts in the tens of millions of dollars, and have had several of the highest recorded personal injury jury verdicts throughout Northern California. We have also overcome monumental legal hurdles to reach favorable settlements. We have brought cases to the appellate courts where we have changed California law to protect the rights of injured workers to make our society a better place. In each case, our firm achieved a big victory for our client because we helped an injured person, a widow or a family – restoring them financially to help them move forward with their lives.

Bob Arns of the Arns Law Firm: The Arns Law Firm has resolved over $1 billion in verdicts and settlements. What are the biggest victories? Every case is a big victory for our clients – whether huge or otherwise. Some “big” cases include $19 million for head injury, $24 million for a back injury, $15 million for wrongful death, $12.5 million for wrongful death, $7.5 million for a foot injury, $20 million for privacy invasion in a class action, etc.

What makes your firm stand out?

Bob Arns of the Arns Law Firm: The Arns Law Firm has a national reputation for representing individuals and families in class actions, serious personal injury, wrongful death, and employment related cases. We stand with workers, consumers, and families, just as we have for over 30 years. We guard against abuse and guide our clients through every step of their cases to achieve the best possible outcome. Our results speak for themselves. We hope you never need us, but if you do, we are here for you. Additionally, our legal assistants, investigators, financial personnel, and lawyers all believe in providing justice for each one of our clients.

Elinor Leary of the Veen Firm: The Veen Firm’s trial team approach to litigating cases sets our firm apart from other personal injury firms. Each case gets not just one attorney, but a team of trial attorneys and legal professionals. We work in an integrated way to make sure each case is effectively prosecuted to achieve the best result.

John Harrigan of Boxer Gerson: How do we stand out? We have been in business for over 40 years in the Bay Area. We are well respected by judges and opposing counsel alike. We offer a unique “one stop shop” approach in that we can handle our client’s on or off the job injury claims “in house” and thereby coordinate the cases better so as to maximize potential outcomes. We are the biggest union side injury firm north of LA that handles WC, PI, and Social Security cases – all in house with experienced attorneys on each matter.

Jim Butler of Butler Viadro: Uniquely, Butler Viadro handles (1) personal injury, (2) workers’ compensation and (3) Social Security Disability cases all at the same firm. A very, very limited number of firms do so. Since all three types of cases can arise from a single workplace injury, we believe it is best to have a single firm handle them all. Where different firms handle these different cases arising out of the same injury, the coordination of cases is much more challenging; under such circumstances, it is much harder to properly coordinate the cases to fully serve the client and maximize his or her recovery. It is a bit like erecting a building without a general contractor. We work on team basis and take pride in the attention we are able to give our clients; clients have more than one attorney or staff person to whom they direct questions at any point in time. And, most importantly, we get great results. We continually get referrals from past clients and can think of no better vote of confidence.

What benefits are available if I file a workers’ compensation case?

Chris Viadro of Butler Viadro: An individual who is injured at work can file a workers’ compensation claim. If the injured worker has not pre-designated a physician to handle industrial injuries, the injured worker will most likely be treated by a doctor from a network of physicians provided by the employer. If the worker is unable to return to work for a period because of the injury, he or she may be paid 2/3 of his average weekly wage as temporary disability benefits while convalescing. The injured worker may also be entitled to permanent disability benefits if there is any permanent limitation following recovery. If hurt on the job, it is important to speak with a workers’ compensation attorney to get a better understanding of these and additional benefits since workers’ compensation insurance carrier routinely deny medical treatment inappropriately and try to underpay other benefits.

Anything else to add?

John Harrigan of Boxer Gerson: We know how unions and rank and file are under attack on a number of fronts. At Boxer & Gerson LLP you will have experienced, aggressive attorneys on your side. Time to even the playing field.

Disclaimer: The attorney comments above should not be relied upon exclusively for legal advice, as the limitations of this article did not afford them the opportunity to provide complete and thorough answers to the questions.

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