Stuntwoman’s fight for health coverage returns to lower court, again

Former stuntwoman Leslie Hoffman sits in the solarium at the Saranac Village at Will Rogers in January 2019. (Enterprise photo — Jesse Adcock)

SARANAC LAKE — A Saranac Lake stuntwoman who had a long career in Hollywood is still in the middle of a now-decade-long lawsuit with her health plan to get coverage for on-set injuries.

In March, a court gave her case a lift, ensuring it continues by sending it back to a lower court for reconsideration.

Hoffman’s lawsuit to get health benefits has bounced around between courts for years. Judges have retired and died, dragging the case on even longer. She compares describing the case to untangling Christmas lights.

After she retired in 2002, she was diagnosed with multiple traumatic brain injuries and began collecting health benefits from the lengthily named Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists Pension and Health Plan.

Twenty-five years of getting tackled, dropped on her head and tossed off boats — all without a helmet — took a physical toll. Hoffman compares this to how a football player may not have one big TBI-inducing hit, but an accumulation of smaller hits can, over time, cause brain injury.

Trustees of this health plan, which is separate from the SAG trade union it bears the name of, fought her request for occupational disability pay. They claimed her TBIs were not suffered while working on movie sets and limited her coverage.

Hoffman sued the health plan in 2010 under the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act.

While this lawsuit dragged on, the SAG-AFTRA plan took away Hoffman’s pension, claiming she could work and had worked, and that she collected payments. She said this is false.

Hoffman has been a stunt coordinator for fan films in recent years, including doing some coordinating on sets in Ticonderoga, where there is a reassembled set from the original “Star Trek” series, but she said she never did stunts herself or got paid.

“No one in a fan film gets paid,” Hoffman said.

After a second lawsuit, she got her pension back last year. But the financial damage had already been done. She sold her California home and possessions, moved back to Saranac Lake and now lives at an independent senior living community, Saranac Village at Will Rogers.

The case is still ongoing and got a boost in Hoffman’s favor recently when the Ninth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals sent the case back to a lower court to be reconsidered. Hoffman hopes if the courts eventually rule in her favor it would result in better health coverage for her fellow stuntpeople.

“It would be wonderful if my case became a first-time precedent-setting case,” Hoffman said.


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