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Best of the Best

Meet the finalists for CLM’s Professional of the Year awards

March 07, 2022 Photo

Each year, CLM honors five industry professionals for their work in claims and litigation management. These individuals are chosen from dozens of peer nominations, and reflect the nominee’s commitment to the profession, leadership in the industry and within CLM, and contribution to the success of their companies or clients. The five award categories include: Claims Management, Litigation Management, Outside Defense Counsel, Young Outside Counsel, and Young Industry Professional.

This year’s nominees are recognized below, and each profile includes a statement from their nominator to illustrate their contributions. The award winners in each category will be announced on March 24, 2022, during the CLM Awards Dinner and Reception at the Annual Conference in Palm Desert, Calif. Let’s meet this year’s finalists.

CLAIMS MANAGEMENT

Name: Bert Dizon

Title: Senior Client Services Manager

Company: Gallagher Bassett Services, Inc.

What His Nominator Said: “Bert is a human Swiss Army Knife—he can do it all and is a known leader and manager of the entire claims process. I have worked on a number of claims with him, and he pushes people to think outside of the box in order to get to a resolution. Beyond his work, he has a true dedication to the education and development of insurance industry professionals, serving as vice president of CLM’s Orange County Chapter while also working on GB’s internal Inclusion and Diversity team that is developing mentorship programs.”

Name: Sarannah McMurtry

Title: SVP, Associate General Counsel

Company: Acceptance Auto Insurance

What Her Nominator Said: “Sarannah is the gold standard for an insurance company’s general counsel—smart, tough, humble, inquisitive, collaborative, and realistic. She revamped Acceptance’s claims and litigation processes with the claims management team in an effort to encourage proactive claims handling and mitigate extra-contractual liabilities. She also headed a team that rewrote all auto policy contracts and audited and updated all policy applications and related documents, helping bring the company into regulatory compliance and significantly mitigating the company’s risk profile.”

Name: Phyllis Modlin

Title: Executive Claims Specialist

Company: Markel Service, Inc.

What Her Nominator Said: “Simply put, Phyllis inspires me to be a better defense attorney and professional representative. She exhibits the very essence of what it means to be dedicated to your career by providing a competent, sound, and pragmatic approach to claims handling. Additionally, she has dedicated hundreds of volunteer hours to support the insurance industry and specifically the construction-defect community, never seeking praise, but rather challenging others to do great things as well. She is a role model for any claims professional.”

LITIGATION MANAGEMENT

Name: Heather Gutkes

Title: Litigation Management Business Analytics Manager

Company: AFICS

What Her Nominator Said: “Heather is passionate about litigation management within the insurance industry and has demonstrated ongoing efforts to educate peers regarding various topics within diversity, equity, and inclusion as well as litigation management-focused topics. In the past, she has partnered with litigation management teams to design, build, and deliver an interactive reporting “litigation log” that included performance metrics of attorneys, inventory management, and planning tools that were applicable across all levels of business. She has built litigation management analytics teams from the ground up while guiding, mentoring, and supporting adjusters.”

Name: Bruce Kelly

Title: Claims Counsel

Company: Vermont Mutual Insurance Group

What His Nominator Said: “Bruce is a superstar in litigation management, a rare combination of intellect and personality found in only the most exceptional of leaders. He is unflappable in the face of adversity, steadfast in his role of mentor, and unsurpassed in his willingness to share his expertise. His aptitude in setting reserves, determining liability, and collaborating with outside counsel sets the standard for those who follow. In addition to his oversight of litigation spend and performance overall, he takes on the most complex of matters on behalf of the company while staying abreast of case law and coverage matters.”

Name: Alycen Moss

Title: Vice Chair, Office Managing Partner

Company: Cozen O’Connor (Atlanta)

What Her Nominator Said: “Alycen is a leader in her field, dedicating hours each week to various organizations­­—leading seminars, and educating young professionals who have an interest in the industry. She assists others in their networking and professional growth, even as her career continues to flourish. She is considered a trusted expert and has implemented a style of litigation management that has been rolled out to address, track, and monitor other legal matters. I am proud to nominate such a worthy candidate to call ‘superstar.’”

OUTSIDE DEFENSE COUNSEL

Name: Kimare Dyer

Title: Partner

Company: Quintairos, Prieto, Wood & Boyer, P.A.

What Her Nominator Said: “Kimare is an experienced trial attorney and has practiced in a wide range of matters throughout her 17-year career. She represents local and state entities, and local and national companies, in the hospitality, real estate, retail, and manufacturing industries. She not only has a passion for the law, but also practicing in such a way that it positively affects her community. In addition to her demanding career, she has volunteered her time mentoring law students and young lawyers. She has strong ties to the Caribbean community and served on the board of the Caribbean Bar Association.”

Name: Wakako Uritani

Title: Managing Partner

Company: Lorber, Greenfield & Polito, LLP

What Her Nominator Said: “Wakako’s work and trial experience is in civil litigation matters, primarily in casualty liability, general tort litigation…and complex construction litigation. She not only works tirelessly as a zealous advocate for her clients, but also is a non-stop leader of our legal community. She volunteers on multiple boards and committees, and has been a great voice on women’s leadership issues. She speaks and writes often, particularly in the area of bias. Her leadership style is to mentor, educate, and, most importantly, lead by example.”

Name: Michael L. Young

Title: Partner

Company: HeplerBroom LLC

What His Nominator Said: “Michael’s expertise in law covers insurance law and bad-faith litigation. He is a trusted advisor of large and small insurance companies. This gentleman brings the insurance litigation world from the age of dark paneled walls full of books on case law to the razzle-dazzle technology of Clubhouse and LinkedIn. He gets people interested in talking about insurance in creative, often hysterical ways by creating a safe, professional environment. Out of the professional environment, he is highly supportive of the diverse following he has, and he never misses a chance to acknowledge others’ successes and reach out when life goes sideways.”

YOUNG PROFESSIONAL – OUTSIDE COUNSEL

Name: Julie Buonocore

Title: Partner

Company: Rebar Kelly

What Her Nominator Said: “While Julie is a young professional, her quality of work, strategy development, claims evaluation, and legal skills rival that of many attorneys who have been practicing for decades. She brings clear communication, frequent reporting, and sharp analysis to her clients, who consistently compliment her. Further, she often takes on the role of mentoring the newest attorneys to the firm, most of whom have no prior experience with insurance defense. In addition to her legal talent, Julie is actively involved in CLM as a Young Professional Advisory Board member and as a frequent conference presenter. She is also involved in her community participating in all of the firm’s charity events and has headed an effort that raised 1,500 new books for underserved classrooms.”

Name: Christopher Del Bove

Title: Attorney

Company: Callahan & Fusco, LLC

What His Nominator Said: “Chris has accomplished many things in his young career that some attorneys never do in a lifetime. He has been involved in trial work in difficult venues, developed business for our firm, and has crushed fraud cases for our clients, who ask for him to work on their files now. He will be acting as a mentor for a law student who will be participating in his firm’s HBCU Impact program and will give a diversity candidate a look at the day-to-day operations of a law firm and the legal system in our region. He is a leader for transparency and change.”

Name: Christina Roberto

Title: Attorney

Company: Tittmann Weix

What Her Nominator Said: “Christina is considered wise beyond her years by colleagues and clients. She was elevated to partner as just a fifth-year attorney due to her exceptional client service, independent business origination, litigation successes, and spirit of teamwork. Not even 30 years old, Christina originates more than $1 million in annual business and recently prevailed in significant litigation matters on two high-profile cases. She demonstrates enthusiasm for the profession by consistently presenting recommendations for changes to her organization’s business leaders in an effort to reduce costs and litigation risk. She provides a wealth of knowledge to clients, shares litigation management practices, and discusses coverage issues with claims adjusters.”

YOUNG INDUSTRY PROFESSIONAL

Name: Jessica Mauch

Title: Claims Manager, Primary Casualty

Company: AXIS Insurance

What Her Nominator Said: “Jessica is a leader in the primary casualty unit at AXIS…where she is a thought leader in the critical area of New York labor law. In addition, she is leading an internal project at AXIS to improve its deductible recovery process through coordination with the company’s operations team. Jessica’s continued growth and development in her insurance claims career is a testament to the training and knowledge she obtained during her time spent at CLM’s Claims College. She is a devoted advocate for CLM and its value in the industry, continually pressing her colleagues both at AXIS and in the industry to attend CLM’s Claims College, webinars, and conferences.”

Name: Gracemarie Mende

Title: Senior Claims Manager, Watford U.S.

Company: Arch Insurance Group Inc.

What Her Nominator Said: “Gracemarie intuitively leads by example—being an insightful partner to her adjusters, managers, lawyers, and experts. She brings expertise and wisdom to each claim (that often belies her age) and, thereby, leads others to accomplish the designed success. She drives better results for faster reserving, proactive investigations, and better overall performance. Gracemarie has rapidly and deservingly advanced throughout her career, starting as a claims assistant and now working as a senior technical claims account manager. She becomes an expert in each area she is tasked with responsibility.”

Name: Angela Oroian

Title: President

Company: Society of Environmental Insurance Professionals

What Her Nominator Said: “Angela started her career at 19 years old in the mailroom. At 30, she pioneered a new concept in our industry by providing online education accessible to all insurance agents, brokers, risk managers, and more called the Environmental Insurance Bootcamp. She is truly a making an impact. We need this more than ever in this volatile time with extreme weather events, and the connection she has made in environmental insurance harnesses the cost of risk into goods and services that can combat climate change.”

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