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Former stuntwoman still fighting for benefits

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Many people work in occupations where they sustain injuries over a long period that eventually render them too disabled to work. However, proving that the disability was work-related can sometimes be difficult.

A former top stuntwoman has been fighting this battle for over a decade. She has been too disabled to work since 2002. During her years in show business, she suffered two traumatic brain injuries and a back injury determined to be degenerative and severe. However, she is still fighting the Screen Actors Guild Health Plan for the benefits to which she believes she's entitled.

Because she was diagnosed with depression, she was able to get Social Security Disability benefits and eventually a disability pension under the SAG Benefits Plan. However, when she sought to have that converted to an occupational disability pension that would also provide health coverage, she was denied. This happened despite evidence that both her physical and emotional disabilities resulted from her stunt work

The plan's administrators contend that her inability to work is due to unrelated emotional problems. She was diagnosed with severe major depression in 2003.

When the SAG plan denied the former stuntwoman "occupational disability pension," she took her case to U.S. District Court in 2010. She contended that the plan's administrators made their decision based on consultation with a single doctor who never examined her. When that court dismissed the case, she appealed to the 9th Circuit Court.

That appellate court determined that the district court should not have dismissed the case because it had "acknowledged that the Plan erred in failing to obtain a second medical opinion in assessing her administrative appeal in violation of Employee Retirement Income Security Act regulations."

Since then, the plan claims that it sent her records, including evidence of brain trauma, to two additional physicians. However, her claim was again denied. That brain trauma, her attorney notes, was caused by multiple falls on her head while doing stunts.

Her attorney is working to get the case heard again. Her job, he says, "ruined her physically." He notes, "She worked her whole life, and then nobody wants to be bothered with her."

Insurance companies and plan administrators have the incentive and resources to fight employees seeking benefits to which they are entitled. That's why it's essential to arm yourself with experienced legal guidance and support.

Source: Deadline Hollywood, "Former SAG Board Member Leslie Hoffman’s Toughest Stunt: Getting Her Union Benefits," David Robb, June 18, 2015

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