William M. Shernoff: Trailblazing Bad Faith Litigation

William M. Shernoff
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Attorney at Law Magazine Los Angeles Publisher Sarah Torres sat down with William M. Shernoff to discuss what he finds rewarding about his practice.

AALM: What do you find particularly rewarding about your practice?

Shernoff: It’s quite rewarding representing the “little guy” on an insurance claim and coming away a big winner against a large insurance company. I love going against big insurance companies who try to cheat people. Insurance companies wrongfully deny claims all the time on all kinds of insurance. People pay premiums for insurance and expect to be treated fairly when they file a claim.

AALM: What do you find particularly challenging about your practice?

Shernoff: Going up against the insurance companies and their big corporate law firms is real challenging. They have all the money and power and can hire the best and brightest of law firms to throw against us. They usually make it difficult to fight these battles by drowning us in paperwork and motions. But we fight on. Sooner or later they come to the table to negotiate a settlement. If the case goes to a jury trial, the jury frequently sides with us.

AALM: What drove you to start your own firm?

Shernoff: I was drawn to start my law firm approximately 40 years ago because I wanted to specialize in a field of law that was just developing. This is the law of insurance bad faith that I have been lucky enough to pioneer with many cases, authoring several books and writing over 50 articles on this particular subject. The law of insurance bad faith gives insurance consumers the right to take these insurance giants to court and come away with damages not only for the claim that has been presented and denied, but also damages for all of the emotional distress they have suffered due to being wrongfully denied. We also can get punitive damages against an insurance company when they cheat a consumer. Before this law was established by the California Supreme Court in 1979 with one of my jury verdicts (Egan v. Mutual of Omaha), there was no effective remedy for victims of insurance claims denials.

AALM: Tell us about your fellow attorneys at the firm. How do you work together?

Shernoff: I have amazing partners, Michael Bidart and Ricardo Echeverria. They are the brightest and best I could ever hope to find. They are terrific litigators and bring about successful results in just about every case they handle. Mike Bidart has been my partner for over 30 years. Ricardo Echeverria was just installed as president of the Consumers Attorneys Association of Los Angeles and is an outstanding trial lawyer. We have 10 other lawyers in the firm. We work together as a team in offices located in Claremont and Los Angeles.

AALM: When you learned you would be receiving the Beverly Hills Bar Association Excellence in Advocacy Award, what was your first thought?

Shernoff: I was surprised! The Beverly Hills Bar has been around for 85 years and is one of the finest lawyer bar associations in California. There are so many fabulous lawyers in Los Angeles, it is hard to understand why they chose me, but it is nice to be recognized by your peers. I was particularly grateful in no small part because Ralph Nader will be presenting me with the award. He is the greatest consumer advocate that this country has known.

I grew up in a small town in Wisconsin with a population of 500. My father was the only lawyer within 50 miles. He was always helping out people. He inspired me to do the same. I think it just makes me happy to be able to help people out when they are in distress. This award from the Beverly Hills Bar will remind me to keep up the good fight for people’s rights.

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