‘Representing the underdog’: Workers’ compensation law practice opens in Nevada City
What: Gold Country Workers’ Comp Center
Where: 206 Sacramento St., Suite 305, Nevada City
Decades ago, Kim LaValley was representing individuals who had their boat seized by police in the Bay Area.
LaValley’s defense was on the grounds of illegal search and seizure – the officers didn’t get a search warrant before checking out the boat, he said.
LaValley won the case in the lower courts, but it got appealed to the Ninth Circuit, he said, where the now-retired Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy was on the panel, reviewing it.
“‘Isn’t a boat significantly different than a car or a house?’” Kennedy had asked him, inquiring as to whether the space was a repository for personal effects and whether people live their part-time. LaValley proved that, in fact, that wasn’t the case and the officers still needed a warrant.
“And so the Ninth Circuit court went my way,” said LaValley.
After accruing more experience, and working as a public defender in Humboldt County, LaValley moved to Lake Tahoe and then Nevada County. In April, he teamed up with Kyle Adamson to run Gold Country Workers’ Comp Center. The two were referred clients from now-retired attorney Jeff Toff, and work on disability law and workers compensation cases. Their firm includes three assistants who, according to Adamson, provide “as much security as possible” for their clients.
LaValley and Adamson offer free consultations and said they take on pro-bono cases.
Growing up, LaValley’s mother was a court reporter, he said, and his father was a court clerk. (His dad later went to law school at age 50, and won a jury trial at age 90.)
“I’ve always been around the law,” said LaValley.
The attorney went from practicing law in the Bay Area, and eventually moved to Humboldt County where he conducted public defender work and began navigating workers compensation cases.
“I was always interested in representing the underdog — you know — the poor and disadvantaged,” he said.
Eventually, LaValley moved with his wife and two children to the Lake Tahoe area where he said he took a short hiatus from the law to open a chain of Papa Murphy’s pizza restaurants. During that time, LaValley began coming to Nevada City and grew to enjoy the area.
“The more we got to know the community, the more we liked it,” he said.
Adamson, LaValley’s colleague, moved to Nevada County in 2015. Upon graduating from undergrad, he said he worked at a credit union in 2008 – which “didn’t work out well” due to the financial crisis.
Upon entering law school, Adamson said he began aiding with cases to try helping immigrants remain in the U.S.
While working around Los Angeles, Adamson and his wife decided it was time to move to a rural area — something more similar to his wife’s roots — and Adamson received a state grant to do pro-bono work and take on cases with low-income clients. Before moving, he sent his resume to Nevada City’s Public Law Center and Law Library in search of work.
When the opportunity arose to partner with LaValley this past year, he jumped at it.
During the early 2000s, workers’ compensation benefits for bodily injury was slashed by then-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. That decision has changed the climate of workers’ compensation and disability benefits cases, said LaValley.
“It’s a lot harder now than it use to be” to get money and medicine for disability claims, he said.
In the light of the new normal, LaValley and Adamson see their role with Gold Country Workers’ Comp Center as being even more important in a rural area like Nevada County.
“Many jobs in a rural employment sector are more dangerous and produce disabling physical injuries at a higher rate than injuries in an urban area produce,” wrote LaValley in an email.
LaValley said the practice has sometimes noticed illegal practices from employers “paying people partially or totally under the table” or “charging them for a portion, if not for all, of the workers’ compensation premiums they pay” in instances where workers have been injured on the job. Adamson said the attorneys refer such cases to the district attorney’s office for possible criminal prosecution.
In general, said LaValley, businesses today have a preference for paying their attorneys rather than their workers in scenarios where their employees get hurt on the job.
“Now it’s, ‘No, I’d rather pay my attorney $1,000 than pay the injured worker $500,’” said LaValley, adding there are exceptions to that trend.
For the Gold Country Workers’ Comp Center, the goal is to make people “feel happy and secure,” and to, if at all possible, help their clients get back to work as fast as possible.
“The real money is in working,” said LaValley.
To contact Staff Writer Sam Corey, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4219.
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