The Worst Thing That Can Happen
Over the course of the years, I have been told that some people, recovering from surgery or unconsciousness after a bad accident, can be heard to say, “Please don’t let me survive a bad car accident. If I can’t walk (or use my hands, or move) I don’t want to live.”
I come by this information second-hand: my daughter is a nurse. The tragic truth is that a surprising number of paraplegics (paralysis in the lower half of the body) and quadriplegics (paralysis below the neck) make the decision to live only because their loved ones want them so. In their hearts, in the dark of night, they often question the decision that led them to the wheelchair, the diapers, the in-home nurse or nursing assistant care. They wonder, “Is this all there is,” or words to that effect.
One thing that can improve this desperation is the awareness, on the part of the injured, that there will be enough money today for doctor bills and mortgage payments and Bobby’s new braces – and money tomorrow, to help the family carry on.
It’s unfortunate that this money so often comes at the end of a potentially lengthy trial, in which insurance companies, lawyers and even a jury try to decide what the price is for a spinal cord injury. So, moving forward, let’s focus not so much on spinal cord injuries but the ways in which such injuries can be made livable.
Where Does the Money Come From?
Love and emotional support are priceless, and neither can be bought. Aside from that, if the accident is a result of a job injury, the money can come from various employment benefits (health care, disability insurance, etc.) or, ultimately, from the Workmen’s Compensation fund, or WC.
If the accident is not work- related, as in the case of US Airways employee James McCutchen, money can still come from the employer via the means stated above, but not from WC. McCutchen, for example, successfully sued his employer after said employer approved the payment of about $66,000 in medical bills from the corporate health policy and then settled another $10,000 on him post-recovery.
All would have been well if the employer had not asked for the $66,000 back when McCutchen successfully collected $100,000 from his own insurance company under its underinsured motorist clause. McCutchen is disabled.
US Airways fought the suit under the umbrella of “appropriate equitable relief” because their benefit plan required employees to reimburse it from any settlement recovered from a third party.
Clearly McCutchen felt that $44,000 from a serious car accident was almost an insult. The Third Circuit Court (United States Court of Appeals) apparently agreed, in spirit if not literally, ruling in essence that US Airways could not share in McCutchen’s insurance settlement without sharing in his legal cost burden. The case, heard in 2012, will eventually appear before the U.S. Supreme Court.
What If I Don’t Have an Employee Health Insurance Plan?
In the absence of a plan to cover medical bills, lost wages and ongoing expenses, those injured on the job will resort to Workmen’s Compensation, or WC.
Given the current economy, supplicants for help may get the runaround even if their injury is severe and disabling. This is partly due to a WC budget spread too thin, to an overwhelming level of bureaucracy, and finally to the glacial speed of any paper moving through any government entity.
If you persist without any reward, you will likely have to hire a WC attorney – one who is experienced in jumping through the 10,000 hoops the system has engendered (or is it engineered?). This lawyer will try to get you every cent you are entitled to under the law. If he (or she) is unable to do so, the next step will be suing the employer.
Even though a claim filed with WC is meant to represent a worker’s final remedy against an employer, there are exceptions and a clever lawyer will find them. For example, if your employer created unsafe conditions with the intent of getting you to quit, you can sue him.
You can also sue if said employer breached a signed contract; if it failed to provide funding for WC; or if it engaged in discriminatory or harassing behavior because of a successful WC suit. Finally, you may even be able to sue if a lawyer can prove that a previously existing condition was exacerbated by aspects of your job that weren’t revealed to you at the time of your hiring.
The Bottom Line on Spinal Cord Injuries
Many people believe they would rather die than live from a bed or wheelchair. But that narrow, bleak view can change rapidly once they find a good lawyer who can obtain for them all the financial supports once gained through employment.
In other words, if you know you will always have a portion of wages, paid medical care, and various other forms of support, you might not only learn to accept your disability but to use it to accomplish something you always wanted to do.
Write a book? Write a song. Become an artist, in paints or metals or wood; any medium you can handle. I know a lady who paints (and sews!) with her toes. Do anything you think you can, because the glass is always half full and there is always a reason for hope.