Defending Clients Hurt on the Job


Panel attorney Michelle Mandel always wanted to follow in the footsteps of her father, a successful personal injury lawyer. Through her father’s work, Michelle witnessed firsthand the importance of helping people get on the road to recovery. Not only can traumatic accidents and negligent medical treatment be painful and debilitating, but they can often result in significant healthcare costs and lost wages. In 2000, Michelle joined her father’s law practice and since then has helped countless people get back on their feet.

“Unfortunately, a lot of people aren’t aware of their rights under the law,” says Michelle. “I appreciate having the opportunity to help people from all walks of life understand their legal rights.”

After attending a free ALRP MCLE training in 2005, Michelle realized that she wanted to extend her practice to help people living with HIV/AIDS. Since joining the Panel, Michelle has helped numerous clients learn their rights and seek redress in personal injury, medical malpractice, and workers’ compensation cases.

In her work with ALRP clients, Michelle has demonstrated the value of representing people who are least able to access legal assistance. One such client, a mono-lingual Spanish-speaking transgender woman, was referred to Michelle for a workers’ compensation matter. The client explained to Michelle that while working as a janitor, she fell down a flight of stairs and seriously injured her back. She immediately reported her injury to her boss and sought medical treatment.

Eight months into receiving treatment, the client’s insurance company suddenly rejected her claim and denied her benefits. The client was shocked. She feared that her boss had fabricated a story to support the denial because her transgender identity made him uncomfortable.

When Michelle heard about the client’s unfortunate situation, she was eager to step in. Michelle successfully negotiated a settlement with the insurance company and secured some compensation for the client. “But most rewarding,” Michelle explains, “was helping the client feel that her experience was valid.”

Michelle notes that the majority of people who call her office about workers’ compensation are like this client – honest and hard-working. There is a misconception that many people fake or exaggerate injuries in the workplace. The actual monetary award in workers’ compensation cases is usually very limited. “The real goal is to get people back to work,” says Michelle.

While she would like to obtain a remedy for everyone who calls her office, Michelle explains that “the law is not often on the side of the injured party,” especially in medical malpractice cases. Although clients may experience a bad result following surgery or encounter a doctor who is disrespectful, there is not always a legal remedy. In addition, the substantial costs associated with proving a doctor’s negligence are prohibitive. However, Michelle has learned that many people find it helpful just to talk to someone. She frequently discusses alternative resolutions like making a complaint to the medical board. Michelle recognizes that listening carefully and offering practical advice can not only make a client feel heard, but can also provide peace of mind.

Michelle was raised in San Francisco and is happy to have returned to the city after graduating from McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento in 1999. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her two young children, Philippa and Ian. They enjoy hiking in the Bay Area and reading books.

ALRP is incredibly grateful for Michelle’s work on behalf of ALRP clients. Her commitment to providing compassionate education and legal recourse to injured persons no doubt makes her father very proud.

Published December 2011