Los Angeles County Employees Retirement Association FAQ
At Lewis, Marenstein, Wicke, Sherwin & Lee, LLP, we represent many members of the Los Angeles County Employees Retirement Association in cases related to disability pensions. To discuss your case with our experienced team, please call our Woodland Hills office at 818-835-4332 or contact us online. The following are answers to questions our lawyers often receive from clients.
LACERA is an acronym for Los Angeles County Employees Retirement Association. It is a separate legal entity from the Los Angeles County. The governing authority of LACERA is a nine-member board that is composed of four elected positions, the treasurer/tax collector, and members appointed by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.
To qualify for a service-connected disability retirement from LACERA, you must be found to be permanently incapacitated from the performance of your job duties, and that the injury is service-connected. In addition to service-connected injuries, as a member of LACERA, you can be granted a nonservice-connected disability retirement, which is granted when you are incapacitated from the performance of your job duties, but for nonservice-related causes.
The words “service-connected” are found in the Government Code of the State of California, which regulates the rights of LACERA members. Generally speaking, “service-connected” means work-related. However, there are legal distinctions between benefits that may be received through workers’ compensation under the labor code and benefits to which you may be entitled under the government code for disability retirement purposes.
If I am granted a disability retirement, do I get a refund of the contributions that I have made to the LACERA pension fund?
No. All individual contributions have been commingled with the contributions made on the member’s behalf by Los Angeles County. These contributions and the investments made with the pooled funds are the funds from which members, including yourself, receive a monthly pension allowance.
In order to apply for a disability pension from LACERA, it must be the opinion of a doctor that you are no longer able to perform your job duties on a permanent basis. That doctor must complete the LACERA physician statement indicating that you are “substantially and permanently” incapacitated from the performance of your duties. Without a doctor to support the claim, an application cannot be filed with LACERA.
If a doctor does support my claim indicating that I cannot perform my job duties, when should I apply?
The timing of the filing of an application is quite complex; however, you have the right to apply at any time you are a member of LACERA, or within four months from a separation from service, such as due to resignation, termination or the taking of a service retirement. Additionally, an application can be filed at any time after separation from service if you have been continuously disabled.
After I have applied for a disability pension with LACERA, how long does it take to complete the process?
Normally, it takes nine months to process the application. However, depending on several factors, it may take more or less time.
If the initial application is denied, the appeal process will also take approximately nine additional months, depending upon a variety of factors.
While an attorney is not necessary, an attorney can improve the chances of success by presenting the case in an accurate and complete manner. If the disability pension is initially denied, you have the right to appeal and request an administrative hearing. At that point, an attorney specializing in the area of disability retirement law is highly recommended as the process is complex and LACERA will be represented by an attorney at that level of the proceedings.
Attorney’s fees vary depending upon the case; however, generally, at the application level, the fees are on a contingent basis. This means that the client will not pay a fee unless he or she is successful in obtaining a disability retirement.