By DAN REYNOLDS, senior editor at Risk and Insurance®
It's perhaps a common human tendency that, as we watch other professionals operate, we think to ourselves, "You know, I could probably do that better than that person could."
Those were the thoughts that began to trouble the mind of Timothy Peterson back in 1995 when he was working as a workers' compensation adjuster for the Fremont Compensation Co.
Life as an adjuster wasn't easy, and, goaded by that reality, Peterson was pinched by another. He was watching the work being done by workers' compensation defense attorneys and thinking that many of them could use some improvement.
"I was frustrated by a lot of the attorneys that handle workers' comp," Peterson said.
"I always ... didn't feel like my attorney was doing a lot to impact the case, they were just sort of down there rolling over," Peterson said.
"And that was probably an incorrect feeling now that I have done that, looking at this in hindsight, but at the time, sitting at my desk, that was the perception that I had. I felt like I could do a better job," he said.
So he trundled himself off to that West Coast bastion of the working man, Los Angeles' Southwestern University School of Law, which boasts as graduates former long-time Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley (now deceased) and former Los Angeles District Attorney Ira Reiner.
Peterson took night courses toward a law degree while continuing his work as an adjuster. When he started studying law, he wasn't thinking that he'd stay in workers' compensation, but that's what he ended up doing.
"I never had any intention of staying in workers' compensation, but it is such a unique field," Peterson said. "It doesn't really have a lot of transferrable skills. I can't go to an intellectual-property firm and say I've been a workers' comp adjuster and have them care one bit," he said.
And that's probably true. But there is plenty to do in workers' compensation in California, and Peterson has since made himself and his firm--Ladera Ranch, Calif.-based Peterson, Colantoni, Collins & Davis LLP--a go-to firm in the field of workers' compensation defense.
We here at Risk & Insurance® first came across Peterson as we researched the twists and turns of the cumulative trauma statutes that bedevil owners of National Football League teams. Peterson is working with the teams to plug a legal loophole that is exposing them to millions of dollars in workers' compensation claims.
Under the state's liberal cumulative trauma statutes, physicians are awarding former NFL players with permanent disability ratings even if the injuries themselves were not sustained in California. Peterson is working to force those cases back under the jurisdiction of states that have reciprocity agreements with California to avoid former players taking advantage of California's liberal statutes.
But Peterson has been active in and is receiving accolades from worker's comp professionals in other spheres of California's broad economy.
Daren Zumberge, the Pomona, Calif.-based insurance coordinator for the Osterkamp Group, a trucking firm, said that she insists that her insurer, Crum & Foster, allow her to use Peterson as her in-house counsel.
"I wouldn't even go with Crum & Forster unless they used him because he has done such a great job for me," Zumberge said.
"Honestly, I have never come out in the bad when he has handled the claim," Zumberge said.
CUTTING TEETH IN CALIFORNIA
California is a tough place to do business, according to Peterson, because the law will always give the benefit of the doubt to the injured employee. And maybe that's as it should be, given that the resources of one injured individual will never match up to those of an employer.
But on his side of the ball, Peterson admitted, he's got his work cut out for him.
"The fact that there is a law that says the labor code should be construed in favor of the worker, that is always going to be a difficult thing for the employer to overcome," Peterson said.
"It is very hard for an employer in California who believes that somebody is malingering or believes that somebody is expanding their complaints. ... It is very difficult for the employer to win those cases absent a post-termination filing," Peterson said.
As we know, the pendulum in California's workers' compensation law is always moving in one direction or another, sometime in favor of the applicant, sometime in favor of the defendant. But for his type of mindset, Peterson the former adjuster has found a professional home in workers' compensation defense.
"Instead of sitting at the desk having to rely on my attorney, I wanted to be my attorney," Peterson said.
And so he is.
November 1, 2010
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