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On Call - Los Angeles & San Francisco Daily Journal

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Dr. Steven A. Heimberg Senior Partner of Heimberg Barr LLP

On Call

A deep knowledge of the medical industry has helped Heimberg Barr negotiate eye-popping malpractice settlements

While working at a think tank that focused on medical ethics issues, Steven A. Heimberg developed an interest in how the law can intersect with medicine in pursuit of justice. So, in 1980, armed with a medical degree, he went to law school with the encouragement of his medical school, University of Missouri-Columbia School of Medicine, professors. “It was a bit of a swan dive off of the status ladder of life,” Heimberg said. “And people thought I was anywhere from crazy to crazy. In those days, it wasn’t happening very often and there was not a lot of support for my moves.”

After working at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, and Affiliates and ReedSmith LLP, Heimberg decided to start his own law firm. He openend on Dec 30, 1992, in Los Angeles. The firm that is now Heimberg Barr LLP. Steve believes the firm’s success comes from the way it approaches a case. “We treat every case as though it’s going to trial so we prepare it for trial,” . “The size or the injury, it doesn’t matter, we approach it from the perspective of we’re going to have to try this case, whether or not that’s the truth, which I think has served us well over the years. I think we’ve developed quite a good reputation among our opposing attorneys and we call a lot of them friends, which is not something that you hear a lot of plaintiff attorneys say.”

The firm has negotiated numerous large medical malpractice settlements, setting new records for size of settlement.

“We’re trying to change the whole notion of what is medical malpractice versus general medical wrongdoing, and I have been since the very beginning because of my understanding of the medical system,” Heimberg said. “Because often you weren’t talking about a medical mistake or even a system error, but monetary motivations for doing things that ranged from extremely careless to just horribly egregious behaviors. And we’ve tried to focus on that.”

The firm was involved in one of the biggest medical malpractice cases in California. The case involved a cardiac surgeon who abandoned  a patient after open-heart surgery, leaving a physician’s assistant to close the chest. The firm, together with its co-counsel Richardo Echevrria, partner at Shernoff Bidart & Echeverria LLP, obtained a jury verdict of more than $68 million, including more than $12 Million in punitive damages against the surgeon. Arteaga Alvarez v. Community Regional Medical Center, 13CECG03906 (Fresno Super. Ct., filed Feb 11th, 2016).

They managed to prove conduct outside the scope of the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act, or MICRA, and avoided California’s $250,000 cap on noneconomic damages.

Echeverria said Heimberg Barr is so successful because of their medical knowledge. By the time they’re done working up the case, they know the medical issues better than anyone else, “including the defendant doctor and all of the experts combined,” Echeverria said in an email.

“In addition to knowing the medicine, they also know how to work their way through MICRA legal issues and can identify legal theories to get around MICRA in many cases,” Echeverria said. ” The combination of those skill sets is what really sets Heimberg Barr apart.”

One attorney who has faced Heimberg Barr in court is Robert Reback of Reback, McAndres, Blessey LLP. “Mr Heimberg and Associates are successful because of their case selection, meticulous workup, and creative and resourceful management of the facts and their experts, ” Reback said.”The case I tried against Mr. Heimberg was quite a few years ago, but we have had many in the interim. With me, he was resourceful and persistent in the trial and a man of his word. He misses no evidence that can be used for the benefit of his client.”

Dr. Steven Heimberg said the cases they work with are often become personal to the firm, since they develop deep connections with the clients, many of whom have sustained life-long injuries as a result of medical malpractice.

In one of those cases, the firm obtained a settlement above $8 million for a 70-year old man who suffered quadriplegia during spine surgery as a result of negligence by  an unlicensed intraoperative neuromonitoring technologist. The firm successfully obtained a ruling on its motion for summary adjudication that MICRA did not apply to the technologist. Ronald Srenco, et al, v. Torrance Memorial Medical Center, YC065778 (Los Angeles Super. CT., filed Oct. 20, 2011). Catherine B. Kim, who joined the firm from Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith LLP in 2017, said there’s a different vibe working at a smaller firm: It’s not as easy to divide tasks between one another, she said. “It literally becomes a very collaborative experience,” Kim said. “Everybody has a role and everybody works with each other and we all have access to the partners. and that’s a really good thing because whether it’s a legal issue, we can all talk about it. And I really enjoy that.”

Dr. Heimberg said they want to keep the firm small because it makes it easier to keep an eye on what’s going on.  “Volume is not necessarily something we’re looking for.” Steven said. “We have quality cases and we’re able to develop very personal relationships with all of our clients.”

By Henrik Nilsson -Daily Journal Staff Writer

Original Article here