If someone claimed severe trauma after decades of falling down stairs, getting into car crashes, getting dropped to the floor head first, and leaping from rigged explosions, one would tend to believe that person. Yet the Screen Actors Guild Pension and Health Plan believes that Leslie Hoffman, a retired Hollywood stuntwoman who did these things and more, has no right to make such a claim. Trustees of the plan, in fact, have spent over a decade in court for the purpose of blocking her attempt to receive benefits. But a U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit now has told the Plan that the charade is over. On March 18, a three-judge panel ruled that Ms. Hoffman, who hasn’t done any stunts in nearly 20 years and who has been diagnosed multiple times with traumatic brain injury, deserves full compensation. The court, unfortunately, has remanded the case to a lower court – and not for the first time.
Union Corruption Update has described this saga twice, in 2015 and in 2018. The situation appears no closer to resolution after 11 years. Leslie Hoffman, a native of Saranac Lake, N.Y., had performed stunts for movies and television shows for at least 25 years before retiring in 2002. She took a pummeling in the process. In 2003 she was admitted for psychiatric treatment on three separate occasions and was diagnosed with “severe major depression.” The following year she was awarded disability benefits from the Social Security Administration, which had determined Hoffman had suffered “severe” and “degenerative” back injury. Her personal physician, Dr. Jeffrey Salberg eventually diagnosed her as having “traumatic brain injury” and “severe back, neck, knee and shoulder injuries…due to continuous traumas throughout her stunt career.”
Hoffman also was a longtime dues-paying member of the Screen Actors Guild. Indeed, for a while she had served on the SAG’s board of directors for a while, and later on the board of directors of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA), prior to the merger of the two unions in 2012. One would think that the SAG-AFTRA Pension and Health Plan, which is legally separate from the union, would have approved her request for occupational disability payments. But Plan administrators rejected the request in 2004, authorizing only limited coverage for psychiatric depression. Five years later, she appealed to Plan administrators to convert her status to “occupational disability.” The union once again rejected her request.