William Shernoff ’62 Named Distinguished Alumnus

Recognized for Crusade against Bad-Faith Insurance

In September, the Wisconsin Alumni Association recognized William Shernoff with its 2012 Distinguished Alumni Award.

The award is the highest honor bestowed by the Wisconsin Alumni Association — celebrates outstanding UW-Madison graduates whose professional achievements, contributions to society, and support of the university exemplify the Wisconsin Idea.

Shernoff, widely recognized as the pioneer of bad-faith insurance law, is a native of Crivitz, Wisconsin. His landmark 1974 win on behalf of an injured roofer in California helped lay the groundwork for bad-faith insurance reform.

With consumer advocate Ralph Nader, Shernoff co-founded the National Insurance Consumer Organization. In the 1990s, he provided funding to start the UW Law School’s Consumer Law Program, the precursor to the Consumer Law Clinic. The clinic serves as one of the main programs in the school’s Economic Justice Institute, handling individual and class action lawsuits in state and federal courts covering a variety of consumer protection issues.

During his September 2012 visit to campus, Shernoff discussed the passion that drives his work. His approach to practicing law, he says, is not about just winning one case, but about how to reform a particular injustice: “I view these as crusades rather than cases.”

“The impact of his career can be felt in every area of economic life and every part of the world, as can be seen by his efforts on behalf of Holocaust survivors,” says Dean Margaret Raymond. “A thread of humanity and compassion connects his work — he is a tireless advocate on behalf of those whose rights might otherwise be ignored.”

A frequent lecturer and author, Shernoff co-authored the legal textbook Insurance Bad-Faith Litigation, which has become the field’s definitive treatise, as well as How to Make Insurance Companies Pay Your Claims … And What to Do if They Don’t; Payment Refused; and Fight Back and Win: How to Get HMOs and Health Insurance to Pay Up. Shernoff has also been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, TIME, and on 60 Minutes.

Shernoff was one of five recipients of the 2012 Distinguished Alumni Award. Fellow honorees were: Carl Djerassi PhD’45, playwright, author and co-inventor of the first successful oral contraceptive; Kay Koplovitz ’67, the first female cable network president in television history; Cora Marrett MA’65, PhD’68, deputy director of the National Science Foundation; and Grammy-nominated jazz musician Ben Sidran ’67.