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Blue Collar Lawyers, White Collar Service, PREMIUM RESULTS

Kerr & Sheldon Deliver Exceptional Results for Regular People and Referring Attorneys

"Approximately forty percent of our clients are referred by lawyers who recognize it’s not cost effective to handle an occasional personal injury matter. Over the years, hundreds of local lawyers have made us their personal injury department, and generated a no-overhead source of income from our referral fees. We handle personal injury cases efficiently and effectively, litigating as necessary so injured victims obtain the best recovery possible,” says Russell Kerr, Founding Partner of Kerr & Sheldon, APC, based in Fountain Valley, CA.
“Currently we have over 200 lawyers that use our firm for personal injury referrals. Our typical client is any person that has been involved in an injury accident caused by the negligence of a third party,” confirms Partner and Senior Trial Attorney, Jeffrey S. Sheldon. “As a litigation-based firm, we either achieve a favorable settlement for our client or the matter will be filed as a lawsuit and proceed to jury trial as needed. All four attorneys in our office have extensive jury trial experience,” he adds.


Meeting of Like Minds
The earliest beginnings of Kerr & Sheldon can be traced to Kerr’s experience as a law student. While attending Pepperdine University School of Law, Kerr worked at the Legal Aid Society of Orange County, where he appeared at more than 80 Administrative Law Hearings on behalf of consumers before various agencies, including Social Security, the Department of Welfare, and the Employment Development Department. A staunch consumer advocate for as long as he can remember, in 1979, Kerr opened the doors to Kerr & Associates.
For his part, Sheldon, who jokes that he pursued a legal career only after realizing a career as a professional baseball player wasn’t going to pan out, followed a slightly different path. Ultimately, he arrived at the same conclusion as Kerr: he had a fierce desire to help those who needed help during one of the worst times in their lives.
While earning his law degree from California Western School of Law, Sheldon says he received incredible training for his future in jury trials. “I was trained to do jury trials for approximately one year by San Diego Superior Court Judge, David Gill. Part of this training was to seek out the judges following a trial for their feedback on trial skill,” he explains. “I was taught to speak to juries, like I would talk to a 12th grade class. They are intelligent people, but they are not lawyers,” he says. The training was the perfect fit for Sheldon’s good natured, and noticeably lighthearted personality.
After being admitted to the Bar in 1989, and eager to continue his passion for conducting jury trials, Sheldon accepted an offer working for large insurance carriers as “they had a promise of courtroom activity,” he says.
Suffice it to say, however, insurance defense work didn’t bring Sheldon a sense of purpose. “It didn’t take long for me to realize that as badly hurt as someone might be, it was my job to help mitigate the insurance company’s exposure. After my first trial, my client was very happy with me, but I couldn’t help but feel like I wasn’t helping anyone. I was derailing someone’s life,” he says.
Within two years, he had his fill of defending insurance companies, and was considering an offer with another plaintiff’s firm when he met Kerr. “Russell offered me almost a mini partnership from the start, that was more than fair, in regard to clients I brought in. His firm was smaller, but successful, and he had built the infrastructure which I was then fortunate to be able to thrive in,” he says.
From the very start, in 1994 when the two began working together, the pairing was a natural and successful fit. “We’re not fancy, intimidating attorneys. We work with ordinary people who have been injured. We work with individuals, who have had something terrible happen through no fault of their own,” Sheldon says. Yet, for as seemingly easy-going as he seems, he’s quick to point out that Kerr is even more unflappable, not only with clients, but with the staff as well. “Russell is so calm. In 23 years, I’ve never heard him yell or become angry. He is mellow and low-key, but incredibly good at what he does.”
Continuing, he says, “I’m friendly, but tough with opposing counsel. Clients never feel their attorney is a push-over. I’m not aggressive for no reason. I’m not the stereotypical ‘pit bull’ attorney; I’m more like a well-trained German Shepard who will attack when necessary,” he laughs.


Great Minds Focus On Specifics That Set Them Apart
As the relationship and firm grew, with Sheldon becoming Partner in 2004, the partners solidified the type of firm that they wanted to continue to build together. They mutually agreed that personal involvement with their clients was paramount. “When any of our four attorneys is assigned a file, our client has immediate, direct contact with that lawyer. We have never had a client complaint that they can’t speak with their attorney. Each of our attorneys has a paralegal and a legal assistant assigned to help, but our clients can always reach their attorney,” says Sheldon.
For decades the firm has actively marketed to other attorneys to serve as their go-to personal injury firm. “Lawyers are uniquely suited to assist and protect others in the pursuit of justice,” says Kerr. “This is particularly true now as regulations on insurance companies and large corporations are gradually being removed, giving them the upper hand on average citizens. Especially over the past few years, consumers have seen their rights slowly, but surely eroded, dramatically transforming the playing field [when they are] against corporations,” he adds.
To that end, Kerr and Sheldon are there to fight back against those diminishing rights, and have had tremendous success in doing so, to say the least. One area in particular has made Kerr & Sheldon a stand-out in auto accident cases. “We’re thorough in all aspects of personal injury damages, including taking an aggressive approach to property damage claims such as diminished value or stigma damage, which is the loss in value in high-end vehicles following collision repairs. For years, insurance companies have wrongfully denied that diminished value is recoverable in California. To skirt the law, insurers relied on a confusing jury instruction to mislead vulnerable accident victims—making them believe that only their vehicle’s cost of repair was recoverable, and that there was no basis for recovering diminished value for a car’s loss in value due to a collision,” he says.
The firm was so dedicated to ensuring that victims receive proper compensation for a vehicle that had sustained damage, thus reducing its value, that in 2015, Kerr played a significant role in clarifying the obscure jury instructions. “In 2015, we joined with consumer attorney Montie Day, Esq. in successfully petitioning the California Supreme Court Judicial Counsel to remedy the confusion caused by the previous jury instruction,” Kerr explains. “Now it’s clear a vehicle’s loss of value is a recoverable item of damages even if repairs were done perfectly.”
The firm also has significant success in prevailing in notoriously challenging slip and fall cases. Victories the firm achieved include $450,000 and $364,000 verdicts against two large grocery stores. “At trial, the judge pointed out that of the 30 slip and fall cases he’d heard, 28 had been defense verdicts. The only two that weren’t, were our cases,” Sheldon explains.


Delivering on Their Promises to Fight for the Average Person
As “blue collar lawyers” fighting for the rights of the average consumer, Kerr and Sheldon, along with their colleagues, trial attorneys Brian Trela and Geoffrey Rill, have proven their dedication and litigation skills time and again to impressive results.
For example, in one case, which both partners say was one of the most impactful of their lives, the firm represented a man who had been horribly beaten in a gay bashing case. “The attackers left our client with broken teeth, a dislodged eye, and impaled the back of his head on a rock,” Kerr recalls. “Two teenagers committed the assault while several others stood by and cheered. Since it was a criminal assault it was difficult to establish insurance coverage, but we went to trial, and secured a $1.1 million verdict. A significant portion of the judgement was satisfied by settlements with insurers for some of the six teenagers who incited or encouraged the attack, on a creative legal theory of ‘bystander liability,’” Kerr says.
The firm was also instrumental in ending discrimination at a major restaurant chain against minorities. “The restaurants had a policy of precluding black patrons on a pretextual basis of dress code violations,” Kerr says. In this case, the firm successfully sued the chain to stop the practice, recovering damages on behalf of numerous patrons who were denied admission.
In yet another case, Kerr & Sheldon demonstrated their resolve, and creativity in helping a woman who came to them after an auto accident. “We opened a file for her, but unfortunately the police report showed liability was unfavorable and we had to reject her claim. However, during the interview she mentioned a prior accident from years before that was still pending but her lawyer wouldn’t return her calls. It seemed suspicious. We called the previous lawyer and determined they settled her case without her permission. Within a week, we had interviewed her, opened a file which we subsequently had to reject, then settled her malpractice claim for a sizable amount, which she desperately needed for medical bills and to replace her wrecked car,” he says.
Finally, in a case that earned Sheldon the noted distinction of being named the 2007 Orange County Trial Lawyers Association’s Personal Injury Trial Lawyer of the Year, the firm faced a final settlement offer of $75,000 from the defense after a low-impact rear-end collision. “Our client was driving a trash collection truck which had minimal damage to its rear from the collision, but despite the minimal property damage he required neck surgery. We stood by our client and after years of litigation which we financed, we were able to obtain a $2.8 Million verdict,” Sheldon says.

Lasting Loyalty Has Firm Poised for a Long Future
With successes such as these, and a proven willingness to see every case through to trial, it’s not surprising that Kerr & Sheldon have earned the trust, respect and referrals of so many colleagues. But, to hear Kerr tell it, the firm’s efforts to help other attorneys take on cases they aren’t equipped to handle, is matched only by their steadfast commitment to consistency and integrity with referral fees.
“We know a lawyer’s reputation is on the line when they make a referral, particularly of a friend or loved one. Referrals we receive are always interviewed by an attorney and we’re proud to be one of the few local firms aggressively handling hundreds of these cases a year, with reliable success. It is not cost effective for attorneys to only handle an occasional personal injury claim,” Kerr says. In addition, he says, “We’ve earned lawyers’ trust for several reasons, the most important being our consistency. Referral fees in accordance with State Bar Rules are confirmed in writing as soon as we’re retained. We pay 10% of the gross settlement or award above the first $5,000 recovered for automobile accidents, 7.5% of the gross settlement or award above the same threshold for other personal injury matters and 25% of our attorney fees for cases involving minors. We rarely call afterward for reductions, no matter how difficult the case.”
The referral fees that Kerr & Sheldon have paid out over the years total in the millions, and this year is no exception. Within the first four months of 2017 alone, the firm had already paid out more than $200,000 in referral fees to local attorneys.
So, what’s left for Kerr & Sheldon to do after establishing a stellar reputation, recovering tens of millions for clients, and paying millions in referral fees to fellow attorneys? After all, the partners are already highly involved in the legal community, and in charitable work. Together they support Santa Ana charities that provide meals for the homeless during the holidays. They have also worked with the Eddie Nash Foundation for Foster Youth.
For his part, Kerr has served as past Chair of the State Bar of California International Law Section, a past Chair of the Human Rights Committee of the American Bar Association Section of International Law and current ABA-SIL Division Chair of Public International Law.
He has been the editor of the ABA-SIL Human Rights Committee e-Brief Newsletter since its inception and was conferred an Honorary Degree from Coastline College for his extensive efforts in establishing and providing legal services through community-based legal clinics. He’s been a featured guest speaker for the Office of the Attorney General, U.S. Department of Justice, Conference on Hate-Crimes and served as a Judge Pro Tem, Arbitrator, and an adjunct Professor of Law at Western State University College of Law.
Similarly, Sheldon has been published in the field of personal injury trial work and has lectured to lawyers and law students on that subject. He has also served three terms on the Board of Directors, Orange County Trial Lawyers Association. He is a member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum, and a member of the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA).
In short, Kerr & Sheldon intend to stay the course for the future. “We have some challenging cases set for trial, including an unfortunate death case where a 47-year-old man was killed by a Coca-Cola truck driver,” Sheldon says.
And in the meantime, the two friendly, but tenacious attorneys are looking forward to continuing to fight for consumers’ rights even in the face of industry-wide hurdles, including mandatory arbitration agreements, insurers’ increased reliance on claims-evaluation software to reduce settlement offers, the Howell v. Hamilton Meats decision limiting recoverable medical expenses to the discounted prices paid by health insurers, and the continued onslaught of tort reform propaganda tainting juror perceptions.
“For 35 years, our firm has encouraged lawyers to “make us your personal injury department,” Kerr says. “We will continue to do that, and we will continue to treat all clients with the respect, and service they deserve. We expect to work hard.”

Russell Kerr
Kerr & Sheldon, APC
16480 Harbor Blvd., Suite 100
Fountain Valley, CA 92708

Jennifer Hadley

Jennifer Hadley is a Staff Writer for Attorney Journal

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About the Author: Jennifer Hadley is a Staff Writer for Attorney Journal

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