Badly Injured Joplin Tornado Hero Denied Workers’ Compensation

On behalf of Brown & Crouppen, P.C. posted in Workers’ Compensation on Friday, October 28, 2011

Residents of Joplin, Missouri are still dealing with the aftermath of the devastating tornado that tore through the city on May 22, killing 162 people and destroying thousands of buildings. Among those whose lives were changed forever by the destructive storm is a 51-year-old social worker who many are calling a hero for his brave attempt to save the three special needs men he worked for.

As a result of his heroism, the man was left badly injured and in a coma that lasted two months. So far, he has run up more than $2.5 million in medical bills as he beats the odds in his recovery. But though his injuries, which still affect him, were sustained in the course of his job, the workers’ compensation insurance company that covers the man’s employer denied his claim.

Coincidently, the social worker had undergone tornado response training shortly before the May 22 tornado, so as warning sirens rang, he and a co-worker had the three men in their care lie down on the floor and placed mattresses on top of them. The group home where the men lived did not have a basement so the mattresses were the best they could do. The social workers lay on top of the mattresses to further protect them.

Then the tornado struck, tearing the house apart and throwing the 51-year-old off the mattresses. Despite the man’s efforts, the group home residents were killed. The social worker himself was badly injured. He was impaled by a piece of metal and his right shoulder was crushed. Rescue workers took him to the hospital, where he slipped into a coma that lasted until July. Despite doctor’s predictions that he would never regain full mental capacity, sight in one eye or use of his right arm, he is awake, fully sighted and should recover use of the arm.

However, he is also facing huge financial problems due to Accident Fund Insurance Company of America’s rejection of his workers’ compensation claim. It was one of only eight rejected claims out of 132 filed following the tornado. The decision has angered the man’s sister, who pointed out that he would not have been injured if he had not been at work. The man’s employer has asked the insurance company to reconsider. A spokeswoman for the insurer declined to comment when asked whether it would take another look at the man’s claim.

The man said he has not decided whether to file a claim with the Missouri Division of Workers’ Compensation, but that he is weighing his legal options.
Source: USA TODAY, “‘Miracle’ tornado survivor denied workers’ comp,” Oct. 24, 2011

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