EXCLUSIVE: Former stuntwoman Leslie Hoffman has gained her 11-year legal ordeal with the SAG Pension Plan and the SAG-AFTRA Health Plan, receiving a $125,000 settlement and an acknowledgement that she is entitled, in the end, to obtain the occupational incapacity pension that she’s been combating for all these years.
The Plans, which are also on the hook for her lawyer’s charges, made “no admission of liability” in settling the case, nevertheless, and have “denied every allegation of wrongdoing” contained in her complaints.
“I’m glad it’s over,” she informed Deadline, “and I hope that this settlement makes it easier for all stunt performers – and all SAG-AFTRA members – to obtain the benefits they’re entitled to.”
$4 Billion SAG Pension Plan ‘In Good Financial Health,’ Officials Say
Hoffman, who’s now operating within the union’s upcoming election for a seat on the Los Angeles Local’s board of administrators, was as soon as amongst Hollywood’s elite stuntwomen: She doubled as Queen Elizabeth II in a slide down a 40-foot banquet desk with Leslie Nielson on prime of her in The Naked Gun; crashed into the again of a truck atop a bike sidecar in Steven Spielberg’s 1941; and leapt off the Love Boat, falling 78 toes into the chilly waters of Los Angeles Harbor. And she’s been twice recognized with a traumatic mind harm that she says was the results of not only one head harm however the many concussions she’d sustained throughout her a few years of stunt work.
In the Nineteen Eighties, she turned the primary stuntwoman elected to the SAG Hollywood board of administrators, and later to AFTRA’s Hollywood and nationwide boards. But by 2002, she couldn’t work anymore, and the subsequent yr Hoffman suffered a nervous breakdown. In 2003, she was admitted for psychiatric therapy on three events and was finally recognized with “severe major depression.”
The subsequent yr, the Social Security Administration awarded her incapacity advantages because of her despair, noting that she additionally suffered from a “severe” and “degenerative” again harm. Dr. J. Michael Uszler, a prime professional within the subject, concluded that she had sustained a traumatic mind harm “most commonly clinically associated with head injury.”
Dr. Jeffrey Salberg, who she’d been seeing for years, wrote in 2011 that Hoffman “remains disabled due to post concussive syndrome as a result of multiple head injuries sustained as a result of her employment of being a stunt woman. She has had ongoing symptoms of the condition since I first began caring for her in 1998 and they have failed to improve after evaluation and treatment by specialists.” In 2012, he recognized her with “traumatic brain injury and “severe back, neck, knee and shoulder injuries…due to continuous traumas throughout her stunt career.”
In 2004, the SAG Plans gave her a incapacity pension — however just for her despair, not for any lasting accidents from her stunt work. In 2009, she utilized to transform her SAG incapacity pension into an occupational incapacity pension with the intention to obtain the extra advantage of SAG well being protection. And that’s when her authorized ordeal started.
In order to qualify for an occupational incapacity profit, she needed to present that she suffered from a complete incapacity that occurred in the middle of employment lined by the Plan. But the Plan trustees weren’t shopping for it, and in 2010, denied her request to switch her present $952 month-to-month Disability Pension into an Occupational Disability Pension – and the lifetime well being care protection it offers – after figuring out that her incapacity from extreme main despair was not linked to her stunt work.
In 2010, following an unsuccessful administrative enchantment, she sued the SAG Pension & Health Plan, difficult its conclusion that her ‘total disability’ was not attributable to her work. Her swimsuit, filed in U.S. District Court, was dismissed, however she then appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which reversed the decrease courtroom’s ruling and ordered Plan directors to rethink her case as a result of they hadn’t comply with their very own guidelines – or the legislation.
Her case, now settled, had been bouncing round within the courts ever since, touchdown within the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals 3 times, the place Hoffman prevailed every time – most lately final March. Ruling in her favor, Circuit Court judges Andrew Kleinfeld, Richard Tallman and John Owens famous that the case “has a tortured history and is now on its fourth district judge and its third panel of circuit judges,” repeatedly referring to the “curious facts” and the “unusual posture” of the case.
You can see her final listening to earlier than the Ninth Circuit, held previous to the settlement, here.
In 2015, whereas the case was nonetheless pending, the Plans alleged that Hoffman had truly labored – and had held herself out for work – whereas gathering her incapacity advantages, which is prohibited. After a slipshod investigation, the Plans ordered her to repay the $123,827.50 in advantages she’d acquired over a 13-year interval, plus one other $8,457.72 in curiosity on these funds – however she doesn’t need to repay any of that both.
As it seems, the Plans knew all alongside that she by no means labored underneath the union’s jurisdiction whereas disabled. In reality, the Plans’ personal information, obtained by Deadline, present that she has had no SAG earnings in any respect, besides residuals, since 2001. (SAG and AFTRA merged in 2012, and the SAG Health Plan merged with the AFTRA Health Fund 4 years later, however the SAG Pension Plan and the AFTRA Retirement Fund stay separate to this present day.)
Documents obtained by Deadline present that early on, Plan officers had been involved that giving her full occupational incapacity advantages may open the floodgates to comparable claims from different stuntmen and girls who had grow to be disabled by cumulative accidents sustained over the course of their careers.
“What I fear is if you were to grant this to Leslie Hoffman, you would – and if it got out, which I’m sure it would – you would have a lot of claims from a lot of performers who worked a lot more on a regular basis and probably suffered a lot more harmful events than Leslie did,” a SAG Pension & Health trustee stated at her incapacity listening to on June 18, 2010. “And I think if we were to go down this road, we would be opening ourselves to a lot of claims.”
“My concern is that this could open the door for much of the stunt community to qualify for an occupational disability pension when that was not the case,” wrote Plans COO Christopher Dowdell in a June 4, 2010, electronic mail about her case. “I don’t believe in this case that she has proven that her disability is really occupational.”
In that very same electronic mail, Dowdell, who two years later would grow to be the top of the SAG Pension & Health Plans after its CEO, Bruce Dow, resigned in shame amid allegations of nepotism and fraud, wrote that Hoffman must be denied SAG well being protection as a result of the Plans had decided that her incapacity had nothing to do along with her years of stunt work.
Dowdell, who retired from the Plans in 2014, got here to that conclusion realizing full properly that the Plans’ personal medical director had already acknowledged that he believed that her incapacity could have been brought on, no less than partly, by her years of harmful stunt work.
“Our basis for denial on this is essentially she has been certified as totally disabled due to her psychiatric illness and not any occupational injury,” Dowdell wrote within the electronic mail to Plan attorneys Mark Hess and Michelle Stimson. “We did get some additional information which prompted our medical director to opine that her disability may be partially related to her injuries sustained as a stuntwoman.”
During this time, Michael Chavez, who was the director of the Plan’s pension division, alerted the directors that the Plan’s personal guidelines could have required them to grant her request for well being advantages based mostly on an accumulation of accidents over her profession, and never simply due to one particular career-ending harm.
“I do want to discuss Michael’s question in regards to cumulative injury over the course of a career vs. a specific injury that happened on a specific day and time,” Dowdell wrote in his electronic mail. “Does the interpretation of the Pension Plan’s rule include that this could be a result of years of cumulative injuries? That wasn’t how I first read it, but I am thinking that it could be interpreted that way.”
And but, regardless of that, and regardless of the opinion of the Plans’ personal medical director, they denied her SAG well being protection on the grounds that her incapacity was not because of “any occupational injury.”
Her $125,000 settlement could not appear to be a lot, nevertheless it’s about probably the most she may have gotten underneath the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. Under ERISA, plaintiffs can’t recuperate punitive damages or damages for ache and struggling – solely the quantity of advantages that they had been truly entitled to obtain.
“I got the best possible settlement that the law allows,” Hoffman stated, calling her lawyer, Charles Fleishman, “a miracle worker. He retired last year, but kept his license to see my case, which included three trips to the Ninth Circuit Court, through to the end.”
“Leslie was the victim of a judicial system that failed,” Fleishman informed Deadline. “The first District Court judge dismissed the case despite the law. The second one refused to hear the case for no reason at all, and the third judge made up a reason to refuse to hear it. And the Ninth Circuit reversed all three of them.” Fleishman additionally famous that the settlement settlement comprises no confidentiality provision.
Here’s the “Settlement and Release of Claims Agreement” between Hoffman and the Plans:
WHEREAS, in or about 2010, Mrs. Hoffman, as plaintiff, filed an motion towards the SAG-AFTRA Plans entitled Hoffman v. Screen Actors Guild Producers Pension Plan et al., within the United States District Court, Central District of California, Case No. 2:10-cv-06913-CJC-E. (“Hoffman I”) difficult the denial of her request to transform her incapacity pension to an occupational incapacity pension with corresponding future well being protection.
WHEREAS, in or about 2016, Mrs. Hoffman, as plaintiff, filed an motion towards the SAG-AFTRA Plans entitled Hoffman v. Screen Actors Guild Producers Pension Plan et al., within the United States District Court, Central District of California, Case No. 2:16-cv-01530-CJC-E. (“Hoffman II”) difficult solely the retroactive termination of her incapacity pension advantages. (Hoffman I and Hoffman II collectively known as “Actions.”)
WHEREAS, the SAG-AFTRA Plans have denied each allegation of wrongdoing contained in Mrs. Hoffman’s complaints in Actions.
WHEREAS, the Parties need to resolve the Actions with out additional litigation or adjudication.
NOW, THEREFORE, in consideration of the guarantees and obligations set forth on this Agreement, the Parties agree as follows:
1. NO ADMISSION OF LIABILITY. Nothing on this Agreement shall be construed to be an admission by the SAG-AFTRA Plans of any wrongdoing or noncompliance with any federal, state, metropolis or native rule, ordinance, structure, statute, contract, public coverage, wage cost legislation, tort legislation, frequent legislation, or every other illegal conduct.
2. PAYMENT AND OTHER BENEFITS. In consideration of Leslie Hoffman’s getting into into this Agreement, the SAG-AFTRA Plans agree to supply the next advantages to Mrs. Hoffman:
a. A cost of $125,000, in full satisfaction of all quantities together with, however not restricted to, unreimbursed well being claims, that Leslie Hoffman has or could declare to have towards the SAG-AFTRA Plans (unique of any proper to lawyer charges, as set forth in merchandise d, beneath), such quantity to be paid inside 30 days of the execution of this Agreement.
b. Leslie Hoffman is decided to be entitled to an Occupational incapacity pension, with all rights and advantages associated thereto, utilized retroactively from the date on which she first filed for such standing.
c. The SAG-AFTRA Plans will present the identify of the person who signed the February 6, 2016 letter to MLS inside 5 days after the execution of this Agreement.
d. Counsel for Leslie Hoffman, Charles Fleishman, shall be entitled to make any correct movement for lawyer charges and the SAG-AFTRA Plans are entitled to reply with any correct opposition. In different phrases, this Agreement neither expands nor limits any claims or defenses to lawyer charges.
3. TAXES. Mrs. Hoffman agrees and acknowledges that the SAG-AFTRA Plans and its counsel haven’t made any representations to Leslie Hoffman concerning the tax penalties of any funds or quantities acquired by Leslie Hoffman underneath this Agreement, and she or he stays solely responsible for the cost of any taxes that are due and owing from her.
4. GENERAL RELEASE AND WAIVER OF CLAIMS. In trade for the consideration offered by the SAG-AFTRA Plans on this Agreement, Leslie Hoffman, individually and on behalf of her heirs, executors, representatives, directors, brokers, and assigns (collectively the “Releasors.”) irrevocably and unconditionally absolutely and endlessly waives, releases, and discharges the SAG-AFTRA Plans, together with mother and father, subsidiaries, associates, predecessors, successors, and assigns, and every of its and their respective brokers, officers, administrators, workers, trustees, attorneys and companions of their company and particular person capacities (collectively, the “Released Parties”) from any and all claims, calls for, actions, causes of actions, judgments, rights, charges, damages, money owed, obligations, liabilities and bills of any variety in any respect, whether or not identified or unknown (collectively, “Claims”), that the Releasors could have or have ever had towards the Released Parties, or any of them, by purpose of any precise or alleged act, omission, transaction, follow, conduct, incidence, or different matter from the start of time as much as an together with the date of Leslie Hoffman’s execution of this Agreement, apart from: a) any obligations set forth on this Agreement; and, b) lawyer charges as set forth in Item 2(d) above.
5. WAIVER OF CIVIL CODE § 1542. This Agreement is meant to be efficient as a basic launch of and bar to all claims as acknowledged in Section 4. Additionally, the Releasors particularly waive the protections of California Civil Code Section 1542, which states: “A general release does not extend to claims that the creditor or releasing party does not know or suspect to exist in his or her favor at the time of executing the release and that, if known by his or her, would have materially affected his or her settlement with the debtor or released party.” Leslie Hoffman acknowledges that she could later discovery claims or reality along with or totally different from these which she now is aware of or believes to exist on the subject of the subject material of this Agreement, and which if identified or suspected on the time of executing this Agreement, could have materially affected its phrases. Nevertheless, the Releasors waive any and all claims which may come up because of such totally different or further claims or information.
6. ACTIONS WITHDRAWLS AND DISMISSAL. In trade for the nice and worthwhile consideration offered underneath Section 2 of this Agreement, Leslie Hoffman shall dismiss, with prejudice, Hoffman 1.
7. KNOWING AND VOLUNTARY ACKNOWLEDGEMENT. Leslie Hoffman particularly agrees and acknowledges that she has learn this Agreement in its entirety and understands all of its phrases. Leslie Hoffman additional acknowledges that she has consulted her lawyer earlier than executing this Agreement, and she or he knowingly, freely, and voluntarily assents to the entire Agreement’s phrases and situations, together with, with out limitation, the waiver, launch, confidentiality, and covenants contained in it. This Agreement is entered into and shall be interpreted solely underneath California legislation.