December 2016 Newsletter

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Spotlight Practice Area: Workers’ Compensation

Russell Elder has been a practicing attorney for 23 years. He received his Bachelor’s Degree from Western Michigan University in 1988 and then attended Thomas M. Cooley Law School where, in 1992, he received his Juris Doctorate. Russell manages HVH’s Workers’ Compensation practice group as well as being part of the firm’s insurance defense team. Russell has experience representing employers, insurance companies and third party administrators in the defense of complex workers’ compensation matters. He has a no-nonsense approach with extensive experience in effectively handling and litigating all aspects of a case.

Mr. Elder has been a guest speaker for the Michigan Risk and Insurance Managers Annual Meeting. He is also a member of the State Bar of Michigan and was admitted in 1992. He joined Hewson & Van Hellemont, P.C. in 2015.


How did you become interested in workers’ compensation? What path brought you here?

During law school, I had the opportunity to clerk for a plaintiff’s firm that handled general plaintiff’s work that included workers’ compensation claims. During my time there I gained my initial experience in the area of workers’ compensation law. I quickly determined that my personality was better suited to represent employers than the claimants filing workers’ compensation claims. Following law school, I began my legal career, in 1992, with the law firm of Zamplas, Nystrom, Johnson & Cavanaugh and remained there through May 1995. I primarily focused on the defense of Workers’ Compensation cases and on occasion, I also was involved with the defense of various Circuit Court matters.

In June 1995, Attorney Nystrom and I moved the Workers’ Compensation practice, forming a new firm where I continued representing employers in the defense of Worker’s Disability Compensation matters.

In 1997, I joined Kopka, Pinkus & Dolin, a firm with a national presence, to manage their Workers’ Compensation Defense practice in Michigan. I remained with the Kopka firm as a partner until December 31, 2002.

At the beginning of 2003 I took the opportunity to transition my practice and clients to a new firm to spearhead their insurance defense practice. I moved my Workers’ Compensation Defense practice to Couzens, Lansky, Fealk, Ellis, Roeder & Lazar P.C. I remained there for twelve and a half years, through June 2015.

During my tenure with Couzens, I had the opportunity to work as a consultant for a major automotive supplier. Under the direction and supervision of the company claims manager, I was responsible for supervising the output of all attorneys handling litigated workers’ compensation matters throughout the United States, including Michigan. In this capacity, I ensured cases were handled properly, that action plans were appropriate, that attorneys were providing appropriate updates and moving matters forward, that liability was properly evaluated and that any settlements or decisions to proceed to trial were warranted based on the facts of each matter. I also participated in national case reviews within the company, the third party administrator, adjusters and the attorneys handling the cases. Because my main focus has been on the defense of workers’ compensation claims I have developed a client base that has afforded me the opportunity to defend employers throughout the entire State of Michigan.


What is Workers’ Compensation? 

In Michigan, in most situations, employees are entitled to pursue workers’ disability compensation benefits against their employer if they suffer an injury or aggravation, physical or mental that can be linked to their employment and results in an effect to their wage earning capacity. This is known as the exclusive remedy provision. In essence, employees in Michigan are guaranteed, via statute, the right to workers’ disability compensation benefits for injuries or aggravations to a condition that can be linked to their employment. In exchange for this absolute benefit and right, the employees forfeit their right, under most circumstances, to pursue other civil actions against the employer. On one hand, Michigan employers that are subject to the Act are obligated to pay employees workers’ disability compensation benefits, and on the other hand, in exchange for their obligation to pay workers’ disability compensation benefits, they gain protection from other associated potential civil actions.

Although benefits payable to employees for work related injuries covered under the Act can be quite extensive, most claims usually involve the payment of lost wages and all medical expenses associated with the work-related injury.

Many workers’ disability compensation claims are, in fact, legitimate and end up being paid by the employers. However, there are those questionable claims, and by the time something reaches my desk there is usually something wrong with the claim or there are red flags that have caused the employer or adjuster to question the legitimacy of the claim. From a defense standpoint, the most frequent issues addressed include: was there an injury or aggravation at all; are there relevant preexisting conditions; is there any evidence of malingering or fraud; is the medical condition related to a work injury or work in general; does the work injury or condition affect the employee’s ability to work or earn his/her regular wage and if so, to what degree; do they have a residual wage earning capacity and are there any other available defenses that will help minimize any potential exposure.


What are you known for professionally? What do you have a knack for?

I am known for always being professional, prepared and aggressive, not rolling over and not just going through the motions. I enjoy working closely with my clients to ensure that claims are being handled in the manner that they desire. I welcome input and enjoy working as a team to aggressively defend litigated claims to ensure we take all steps necessary to minimize any exposure. I take great pride in my work, and I believe that my clients find my representation to always be professional, responsive, aggressive and thorough. My goal is to turn over every stone to ensure nothing is missed. My clients find that I am always prepared and that I focus on every detail of a case. I feel I have a great knack for not only looking at the big picture, but also for focusing on small issues, details or facts that might affect the overall case. At the end of the day, when decisions are being made regarding proceeding to trial or settling a case, and if settling for what figure, my clients are confident that their cases have been defended properly, that the information they are basing their decisions on is accurate and that all possible activities have taken place to put them in the best possible position.

What’s the one problem you solve best for your clients? What do your ideal clients say about you?

I am aggressive, hardworking, thorough, always available to discuss issues, strategic and responsive. No surprises for my clients. I tend to turn over every stone and take all appropriate actions to place my clients in the best position based on the facts of each case. My thoroughness and preparation allows me to provide detailed recommendations and accurate liability analysis resulting in my clients having confidence when it comes to making decisions regarding case activity, settlement versus proceeding to trial and other such important case decisions.

What are you most passionate about professionally? What most excites you about your work and the contribution you can make?

Digging into a case to prepare for trial or a deposition, matching wits with opposing counsel and never being unprepared. In addition to the actual work, I enjoy my clients, the relationships we have built and the team approach and collaboration that we have on each case.

News & Announcements

Link to Hewson & Van Hellemont

Hewson and Van Hellemont page is expanding to provide the firm’s latest news and information. Follow HVH on LinkedIn.

Fall Community Charity Drive

Thank you to all who donated to the 2016 annual HVH food / clothing drive.  

The Grand Rapids office collected 184 pounds of food for Feeding America West Michigan, Feeding America WM distributed 27.6 million pounds of food in 2015. More than 1,100 agencies use FAWM to provide food to an estimated 492,100 people every year. They also send food directly to people in need through a local Mobile Food Pantry Program.

Oak Park and Mt. Clemens offices collected over 1,400 cans and 200 boxes of food and a large box of baking goods that were donated to Open Hands Food Pantry in Royal Oak for distribution. Additionally, enough clothing to fill a room at Open Hands Food Pantry in Royal Oak was collected.   

Open Hands Food Pantry works to help the working poor, those without jobs, seniors, and to keep children free from hunger. In 2015 they were able to provide food for over 13,500 people.

HVH 2016 Chili Cook-off winners  

1st Stephen Wezner
2nd Annamarie Moore

3rd Sarah Goudreau

Staff Spotlight: Words from Melissa Clark

What are you supposed to write when asked to do a spotlight piece? Well I have been given the honor of being the first spotlight employee for the HVH newsletter. Most everyone knows that I love the sport of football and especially my Green Bay Packers. I am a passionate person when it comes to charity and helping others. I enjoy helping people and always being on the move.   

Currently, I am and always will be extremely passionate about our country’s law enforcement and first responder community. If you have ever taken a stroll into my office, you will see that I have Thin Blue Line and law enforcement décor on the walls. You also probably will notice that my favorite colors are Black and Blue. My police family means the world to me and I always will make sure that I have their backs. These individuals tirelessly go out and protect the streets so that we can rest easily and enjoy our everyday lives.   

Approximately a year ago, I co-founded a Social Club at my spouse’s department. The group is another line of support to our officers and helps in the community where needed. I am so proud of the work that we have done and our department appreciates the efforts. I have lost many friends along the way, which makes it even more important to continue to honor their sacrifice and spread positivity throughout the community and to help out my blue family. So with that being said if you ever are interested in learning how we can show these men and women we care, come see me.


Awards received in 2016 by Hewson & Van Hellemont Attorneys:
  • James F. Hewson was selected as one of the 2016 class of “Leaders in the Law” by Michigan Lawyers Weekly
  • Amber Girbach was the proud recipient of the 2016 MDTC Young Lawyers Golden Gavel Award.
  • Louisa M. Papalas named “2015 Prosecutor of the Year” by the Michigan Chapter of the IAAI, International Association of Arson Investigators.
  • Amber Cervantez, named one of 30 "2016 Up & Coming Lawyers" by Michigan Lawyers Weekly. 


A recent addition to the HVH offices is the firm’s transition from 1991 to 2016 visually depicted. In 1991 HVH was located in the Buhl Building, Detroit remaining there until 2000 when HVH moved offices to Warren, MI. As the firm continued to expand more space was needed and the current location in Oak Park was secured in 2007. To support current and additional clients HVH added an office in Grand Rapids (2010), an office in Mount Clemens (2013) and this year added a branch in Fort Myers, Florida. Started with 4 attorneys in the Buhl Bldg Hewson & Van Hellemont currently has 61 attorneys located between the 4 locations. The expansion has moved HVH beyond insurance fraud work to include support in 25+ practice areas.

Welcome Our New Attorneys

Greg Marler has joined the HVH Fort Myers’ office. He moved to southwest Florida in 2005 after practicing law for 16 years in suburban Detroit, Michigan. He is a graduate of Wayne State University Law School, where he received his Juris Doctor degree in 1989 and a Master of Laws in Corporate and Finance Law in 1997. Mr. Marler’s practice in Michigan was focused on business, finance, and real property law that included estate planning, business planning, mergers and acquisitions, real estate transactions and serving as corporate counsel to community associations.

Mr. Marler represented community associations in Florida until early in 2015, and now concentrates his practice on estate planning exclusively. He helps families and Individuals with often difficult and complex estate planning issues by using plain language and by exploring the simplest and most efficient solutions for them. He is committed to understanding his clients’ specific needs and spending all the time necessary to educate his clients so they can make informed, reasoned decisions and have confidence that their personal estate planning objectives are being met.
Michael J. Sapick graduated from the University of Michigan in 2013, where he received a B.A. in History. Michael then attended Michigan State University College of Law and graduated and passed the Michigan Bar Exam in 2016.

During his time in law school, Michael was a semi-finalist in the law college’s Moot Court Class Competition and a two-time Jurisprudence Award recipient. He also made the Dean’s List several times. He worked for the Metro Detroit City while in law school gaining experience in both Criminal Prosecution and Municipal Law.

His primary area of practice at Hewson & Van Hellemont, P.C. is defending claims for first and third party benefits under the Michigan No-Fault Act.
Dahlia Seligman graduated from the University of Ottawa in 2013 where she earned an Honors Bachelor of Arts, majoring in Ethics with a minor in French as a Second Language. She then attended Michigan State University College of Law, where she graduated in 2016. While in law school Ms. Seligman competed in trial advocacy and arbitration competitions. She also, won the National Law Review’s Law Student Writing competition.

She externed for the honorable Rosemarie Aquilina at the 30th Judicial Circuit Court, for the Canadian government in the Office of the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel for the Senate of Canada, and for the Livingston County Prosecutor’s Office.

Ms. Seligman was admitted to the State Bar of Michigan in 2016. She will focus her area of practice in defending against fraudulent claims for first and third party benefits under the Michigan No-Fault Act.
Ian Hickman received his Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science from the University of Michigan in 2013. Ian attended Wayne State University Law School and received his Juris doctorate in 2016.

During law school, Ian served as a law clerk at Liberty Mutual Insurance Company. Ian also was elected as Treasurer of the student-run Free Legal Aid Clinic, which provides free family and elder law legal services to indigent residents of Wayne County. He participated in the Wayne State University Law School Mock Trial competition and competed in the Wayne State University Law School Transactional Business Law competition, receiving two awards for contract drafting.
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