Hamilton firefighter named in $4-million lawsuit filed by union

News Apr 07, 2016 by Rob Ferguson Hamilton Spectator

Two veteran firefighters are facing a $4-million lawsuit from their union, which accuses them of bilking a portion of workers' compensation settlements from widows and families of retirees.

A statement of claim filed at the Superior Court of Justice last Friday by the Ontario Professional Fire Fighter's Association (OPFFA) names Toronto firefighter Paul Atkinson and Colin Grieve of the Hamilton department.

The claim says the pair — while helping firefighters' relatives with occupational disease compensation cases on behalf of the union — convinced families to redirect up to 12 per cent of their settlements to the two men instead of donating the money to the association. The association donations were to be used to help other firefighters' families coping with illness and bereavements, the claim says.

The union also accused Atkinson and Grieve of renting luxury cars in an "elaborate scheme" that saw them travel the province working on cases, while their salaries, expenses and meals were covered by the OPFFA at a cost of about $135,000 annually.

Those allegations, which a lawyer for Atkinson and Grieve calls "completely unfounded," have not been tested in court.

"These guys are firefighters themselves," Gavin Tighe, of Gardiner Roberts LLP, said Wednesday. "They have recovered millions of dollars for widows and families of firefighters and cut the waits."

Atkinson and Grieve have spent more than a decade — and earned favourable publicity in the media — shepherding the occupational disease claims of retired firefighters through roadblocks at the Workplace Safety Insurance Board.

The union puts the amount of money they have helped recover for their clients at more than $100 million.

Union president Carmen Santoro said in a statement Wednesday that Atkinson and Grieve "improperly misappropriated portions of WSIB awards."

The pair was supposed to convince families to donate some proceeds of those cash awards to the union to help cover the mounting costs of detaching them from firehouse duties, Santoro said.

He told the Toronto Star an internal probe began after a widow called the union to complain in August and that Ontario Provincial Police were contacted.

The OPP initially said Wednesday that there is not an investigation into the firefighter union concerns, but Santoro said the anti-rackets branch is awaiting more information from him. A subsequent inquiry to the police from the Star was not answered by press time.

The four defendants — also named are Toronto lawyer Sherwin Shapiro and paralegal Frances Furmanov — have not yet been served with notice of the lawsuit, although Grieve, who previously served as a police officer in Guelph, said he was aware of it.

No statements of defence have been filed, but Tighe said on behalf of his two clients that "there is a very significant other side to this."

"This claim, in our view, is scandalous, and we will be responding accordingly," added Tighe, who has previously represented former mayor Rob Ford and his brother Doug Ford in a municipal conflict of interest case.

"There will undoubtedly be a counter claim and there will be other parties named."

Shapiro did not reply to a telephone call seeking comment and Furmanov said she was "not aware" of the lawsuit, which alleges families were told by the two firefighters that they had to pay "professional fees" to Shapiro's firm and Furmanov's paralegal service.

"It came to me as a shock," Furmanov added. "If my name or my practice is slandered in any way, I will take legal action."

In the 17-page statement of claim, the union headquartered in Burlington is seeking to recover $3 million plus $1 million in punitive damages from the defendants along with an order to trace, account for and recover "all amounts owed."

"Our only intention through this is to make all of our widows whole," Santoro said in an interview.

The statement of claim notes firefighters are frequently exposed to smoke, toxic materials and high levels of stress on the job, increasing their risk of occupational illnesses such as cancers that often don't present symptoms until years later.

About 15 years ago, the number of WSIB cases involving retired and deceased firefighters started to rise and the association's budget couldn't handle the overflow given the demand for services from active members, the claim said.

A contingency fund was established in 2004 to assist with retiree WSIB claims through donations from firefighter union locals and voluntary payments from families who received settlements and agreed to help with the cause.

A year later, Atkinson and Grieve, who had been on the association's WSIB committee, were tasked to staff a new "occupational disease committee" to help both current and retired members with job-related disease claims.

As such, they stopped working firehouse shifts and their departments were reimbursed by the union for replacements.

"Atkinson and Grieve were responsible for all aspects of a claimant's representation," work that included getting ill firefighters or their beneficiaries to sign letters of agreement and pay contributions to the association from their WSIB cheques, the statement of claim says.

It notes the two were also paid an annual honoraria, a daily per diem for work done outside their homes, meal and travel per diems and reimbursements of their expenses in addition to their firefighter salaries.

But by 2006, funds to support their work were inadequate so a special $1 monthly levy was imposed on thousands of firefighter union members.

"Atkinson and Grieve were apparently having great success in obtaining compensation for retired firefighters and their beneficiaries, but the RCCF (retirees' cancer claim fund) failed to grow in proportion," says the statement of claim.

It alleges Atkinson and Grieve formed a company called Professional Firefighters Advocates Incorporated to handle their business and were "falsely representing to claimants that (they) were not being compensated for their time and efforts."

In addition, the two men used a "letter of agreement" with clients that was "confusingly similar in form and content" to the letter of agreement the union had asked them to get families to sign to contribute to the union fund.

That was "in an effort to confuse claimants into believing they were agreeing to contribute monies to the OPFFA," adds the statement of claim, which notes the firefighters' corporation name is similar to the union name.

"The defendants' conduct was particularly egregious given that the retirees and beneficiaries they represented were elderly and vulnerable, experiencing illness or loss of family members, and had little or no experience with workplace compensation matters."

Lawyers for the defendants have at least 20 days to file statements of defence or notices of intent to defend the lawsuit.

The WSIB declined comment, saying the case is before the courts.

Toronto Star

Hamilton firefighter named in $4-million lawsuit filed by union

Ontario Professional Fire Fighter’s Association accuses man of bilking families out of a portion of workers’ compensation settlements

News Apr 07, 2016 by Rob Ferguson Hamilton Spectator

Two veteran firefighters are facing a $4-million lawsuit from their union, which accuses them of bilking a portion of workers' compensation settlements from widows and families of retirees.

A statement of claim filed at the Superior Court of Justice last Friday by the Ontario Professional Fire Fighter's Association (OPFFA) names Toronto firefighter Paul Atkinson and Colin Grieve of the Hamilton department.

The claim says the pair — while helping firefighters' relatives with occupational disease compensation cases on behalf of the union — convinced families to redirect up to 12 per cent of their settlements to the two men instead of donating the money to the association. The association donations were to be used to help other firefighters' families coping with illness and bereavements, the claim says.

The union also accused Atkinson and Grieve of renting luxury cars in an "elaborate scheme" that saw them travel the province working on cases, while their salaries, expenses and meals were covered by the OPFFA at a cost of about $135,000 annually.

Those allegations, which a lawyer for Atkinson and Grieve calls "completely unfounded," have not been tested in court.

"These guys are firefighters themselves," Gavin Tighe, of Gardiner Roberts LLP, said Wednesday. "They have recovered millions of dollars for widows and families of firefighters and cut the waits."

Atkinson and Grieve have spent more than a decade — and earned favourable publicity in the media — shepherding the occupational disease claims of retired firefighters through roadblocks at the Workplace Safety Insurance Board.

The union puts the amount of money they have helped recover for their clients at more than $100 million.

Union president Carmen Santoro said in a statement Wednesday that Atkinson and Grieve "improperly misappropriated portions of WSIB awards."

The pair was supposed to convince families to donate some proceeds of those cash awards to the union to help cover the mounting costs of detaching them from firehouse duties, Santoro said.

He told the Toronto Star an internal probe began after a widow called the union to complain in August and that Ontario Provincial Police were contacted.

The OPP initially said Wednesday that there is not an investigation into the firefighter union concerns, but Santoro said the anti-rackets branch is awaiting more information from him. A subsequent inquiry to the police from the Star was not answered by press time.

The four defendants — also named are Toronto lawyer Sherwin Shapiro and paralegal Frances Furmanov — have not yet been served with notice of the lawsuit, although Grieve, who previously served as a police officer in Guelph, said he was aware of it.

No statements of defence have been filed, but Tighe said on behalf of his two clients that "there is a very significant other side to this."

"This claim, in our view, is scandalous, and we will be responding accordingly," added Tighe, who has previously represented former mayor Rob Ford and his brother Doug Ford in a municipal conflict of interest case.

"There will undoubtedly be a counter claim and there will be other parties named."

Shapiro did not reply to a telephone call seeking comment and Furmanov said she was "not aware" of the lawsuit, which alleges families were told by the two firefighters that they had to pay "professional fees" to Shapiro's firm and Furmanov's paralegal service.

"It came to me as a shock," Furmanov added. "If my name or my practice is slandered in any way, I will take legal action."

In the 17-page statement of claim, the union headquartered in Burlington is seeking to recover $3 million plus $1 million in punitive damages from the defendants along with an order to trace, account for and recover "all amounts owed."

"Our only intention through this is to make all of our widows whole," Santoro said in an interview.

The statement of claim notes firefighters are frequently exposed to smoke, toxic materials and high levels of stress on the job, increasing their risk of occupational illnesses such as cancers that often don't present symptoms until years later.

About 15 years ago, the number of WSIB cases involving retired and deceased firefighters started to rise and the association's budget couldn't handle the overflow given the demand for services from active members, the claim said.

A contingency fund was established in 2004 to assist with retiree WSIB claims through donations from firefighter union locals and voluntary payments from families who received settlements and agreed to help with the cause.

A year later, Atkinson and Grieve, who had been on the association's WSIB committee, were tasked to staff a new "occupational disease committee" to help both current and retired members with job-related disease claims.

As such, they stopped working firehouse shifts and their departments were reimbursed by the union for replacements.

"Atkinson and Grieve were responsible for all aspects of a claimant's representation," work that included getting ill firefighters or their beneficiaries to sign letters of agreement and pay contributions to the association from their WSIB cheques, the statement of claim says.

It notes the two were also paid an annual honoraria, a daily per diem for work done outside their homes, meal and travel per diems and reimbursements of their expenses in addition to their firefighter salaries.

But by 2006, funds to support their work were inadequate so a special $1 monthly levy was imposed on thousands of firefighter union members.

"Atkinson and Grieve were apparently having great success in obtaining compensation for retired firefighters and their beneficiaries, but the RCCF (retirees' cancer claim fund) failed to grow in proportion," says the statement of claim.

It alleges Atkinson and Grieve formed a company called Professional Firefighters Advocates Incorporated to handle their business and were "falsely representing to claimants that (they) were not being compensated for their time and efforts."

In addition, the two men used a "letter of agreement" with clients that was "confusingly similar in form and content" to the letter of agreement the union had asked them to get families to sign to contribute to the union fund.

That was "in an effort to confuse claimants into believing they were agreeing to contribute monies to the OPFFA," adds the statement of claim, which notes the firefighters' corporation name is similar to the union name.

"The defendants' conduct was particularly egregious given that the retirees and beneficiaries they represented were elderly and vulnerable, experiencing illness or loss of family members, and had little or no experience with workplace compensation matters."

Lawyers for the defendants have at least 20 days to file statements of defence or notices of intent to defend the lawsuit.

The WSIB declined comment, saying the case is before the courts.

Toronto Star

Hamilton firefighter named in $4-million lawsuit filed by union

Ontario Professional Fire Fighter’s Association accuses man of bilking families out of a portion of workers’ compensation settlements

News Apr 07, 2016 by Rob Ferguson Hamilton Spectator

Two veteran firefighters are facing a $4-million lawsuit from their union, which accuses them of bilking a portion of workers' compensation settlements from widows and families of retirees.

A statement of claim filed at the Superior Court of Justice last Friday by the Ontario Professional Fire Fighter's Association (OPFFA) names Toronto firefighter Paul Atkinson and Colin Grieve of the Hamilton department.

The claim says the pair — while helping firefighters' relatives with occupational disease compensation cases on behalf of the union — convinced families to redirect up to 12 per cent of their settlements to the two men instead of donating the money to the association. The association donations were to be used to help other firefighters' families coping with illness and bereavements, the claim says.

The union also accused Atkinson and Grieve of renting luxury cars in an "elaborate scheme" that saw them travel the province working on cases, while their salaries, expenses and meals were covered by the OPFFA at a cost of about $135,000 annually.

Those allegations, which a lawyer for Atkinson and Grieve calls "completely unfounded," have not been tested in court.

"These guys are firefighters themselves," Gavin Tighe, of Gardiner Roberts LLP, said Wednesday. "They have recovered millions of dollars for widows and families of firefighters and cut the waits."

Atkinson and Grieve have spent more than a decade — and earned favourable publicity in the media — shepherding the occupational disease claims of retired firefighters through roadblocks at the Workplace Safety Insurance Board.

The union puts the amount of money they have helped recover for their clients at more than $100 million.

Union president Carmen Santoro said in a statement Wednesday that Atkinson and Grieve "improperly misappropriated portions of WSIB awards."

The pair was supposed to convince families to donate some proceeds of those cash awards to the union to help cover the mounting costs of detaching them from firehouse duties, Santoro said.

He told the Toronto Star an internal probe began after a widow called the union to complain in August and that Ontario Provincial Police were contacted.

The OPP initially said Wednesday that there is not an investigation into the firefighter union concerns, but Santoro said the anti-rackets branch is awaiting more information from him. A subsequent inquiry to the police from the Star was not answered by press time.

The four defendants — also named are Toronto lawyer Sherwin Shapiro and paralegal Frances Furmanov — have not yet been served with notice of the lawsuit, although Grieve, who previously served as a police officer in Guelph, said he was aware of it.

No statements of defence have been filed, but Tighe said on behalf of his two clients that "there is a very significant other side to this."

"This claim, in our view, is scandalous, and we will be responding accordingly," added Tighe, who has previously represented former mayor Rob Ford and his brother Doug Ford in a municipal conflict of interest case.

"There will undoubtedly be a counter claim and there will be other parties named."

Shapiro did not reply to a telephone call seeking comment and Furmanov said she was "not aware" of the lawsuit, which alleges families were told by the two firefighters that they had to pay "professional fees" to Shapiro's firm and Furmanov's paralegal service.

"It came to me as a shock," Furmanov added. "If my name or my practice is slandered in any way, I will take legal action."

In the 17-page statement of claim, the union headquartered in Burlington is seeking to recover $3 million plus $1 million in punitive damages from the defendants along with an order to trace, account for and recover "all amounts owed."

"Our only intention through this is to make all of our widows whole," Santoro said in an interview.

The statement of claim notes firefighters are frequently exposed to smoke, toxic materials and high levels of stress on the job, increasing their risk of occupational illnesses such as cancers that often don't present symptoms until years later.

About 15 years ago, the number of WSIB cases involving retired and deceased firefighters started to rise and the association's budget couldn't handle the overflow given the demand for services from active members, the claim said.

A contingency fund was established in 2004 to assist with retiree WSIB claims through donations from firefighter union locals and voluntary payments from families who received settlements and agreed to help with the cause.

A year later, Atkinson and Grieve, who had been on the association's WSIB committee, were tasked to staff a new "occupational disease committee" to help both current and retired members with job-related disease claims.

As such, they stopped working firehouse shifts and their departments were reimbursed by the union for replacements.

"Atkinson and Grieve were responsible for all aspects of a claimant's representation," work that included getting ill firefighters or their beneficiaries to sign letters of agreement and pay contributions to the association from their WSIB cheques, the statement of claim says.

It notes the two were also paid an annual honoraria, a daily per diem for work done outside their homes, meal and travel per diems and reimbursements of their expenses in addition to their firefighter salaries.

But by 2006, funds to support their work were inadequate so a special $1 monthly levy was imposed on thousands of firefighter union members.

"Atkinson and Grieve were apparently having great success in obtaining compensation for retired firefighters and their beneficiaries, but the RCCF (retirees' cancer claim fund) failed to grow in proportion," says the statement of claim.

It alleges Atkinson and Grieve formed a company called Professional Firefighters Advocates Incorporated to handle their business and were "falsely representing to claimants that (they) were not being compensated for their time and efforts."

In addition, the two men used a "letter of agreement" with clients that was "confusingly similar in form and content" to the letter of agreement the union had asked them to get families to sign to contribute to the union fund.

That was "in an effort to confuse claimants into believing they were agreeing to contribute monies to the OPFFA," adds the statement of claim, which notes the firefighters' corporation name is similar to the union name.

"The defendants' conduct was particularly egregious given that the retirees and beneficiaries they represented were elderly and vulnerable, experiencing illness or loss of family members, and had little or no experience with workplace compensation matters."

Lawyers for the defendants have at least 20 days to file statements of defence or notices of intent to defend the lawsuit.

The WSIB declined comment, saying the case is before the courts.

Toronto Star