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Cagle Law Firm
Attorney Zane Cagle

Posted on October 24th, 2011,
by Zane Cagle

Joplin Hero Denied Workers’ Compensation–Keeps Looking for the Positive

Posted on October 24th, 2011 by Zane Cagle

A social worker from Joplin, Missouri, severely injured while trying to assist disable adults during the Joplin tornado, has been denied worker’s comp insurance for his injuries.  He was injured attempting to assist three developmentally disabled adults.  He did not have medical insurance because he could not afford the premiums.  He now has medical bills exceeding $2.5 million, takes 11 prescription drugs daily, and will need further surgery in the future. Both houses of the Missouri Legislature honored the hero, the Senate resolution calling him “a true hero and inspiration to others, “according to theSt. Louis Post Dispatch.

When the storm hit, the man was at his group home with three adults with Down Syndrome.  Hearing the tornado sirens, the social worker and a partner began searching for ways to protect these men.  The house lacked a basement or a safe place to ride the storm out.  Due to the three men’s lack of mobility, evacuation was not an option.  The only option this man and a coworker had was to put mattresses on top of the respective men and sit on top of those mattresses for added protection, as he had been trained to do by his employer.  The winds, however, demolished the group home, killing those three men.  The social worker was tossed a city block, impaled on a piece of metal, buried under a pile of rubble.  His shoulder had been destroyed, all his ribs had been broken, most of his teeth had been knocked out, and he was in a coma for two months.  The doctors told his family that if he survived his injuries, he would likely be blind in one eye, have no use of his right hand, and not think or speak normally again.

After surviving those catastrophic injuries and making recoveries that astound doctors, however, he was not prepared for a similarly tough fight: the fight with the insurance company.  This social worker had assumed that, because the injuries were sustained while on the job, he would be covered by his employer’s insurance company. The insurance company denied the claim, telling him the denial was ” based on the fact that there was no greater risk than the general public at the time you were involved in the Joplin tornado .”

Because this E-5 tornado was so devastating and so widespread, they argue that he was in no more danger than anyone else.   The tornado was one of the nation’s worse ever and destroyed over 7,000 homes and killed 162 people. According to The St. Louis Post Dispatch, the community home employer had trained the workers in emergency procedures and they man and his partner had reacted in the correct manner.   “I think they need to take another look at the circumstances and revisit the claim,” state Rep. Bill Lant, R-Joplin, said. “What he did went beyond heroics.” The CEO of the community home has asked the insurance company to reconsider the man’s claim.  The Joplin victim also could seek relief through the Missouri Division of Workers Compensation but has not done so because he is weighing legal options and still dealing with health issues according to sources.

Amy Susan, a spokeswoman for the division, said the state could help facilitate settlement talks with the insurance company, or the worker could ask an administrative law judge to hear the case. That judge would decide if the company should pay the claim.

The insurance company also argues that this injury did not occur as part of this man’s employment; therefore he should not be covered under worker’s compensation insurance.  The family of this man claims that is untrue; if he weren’t at work that day, he would have never been in the storm’s path.  And while he could have simply abandoned those three developmentally disabled men, the social worker said that thought never crossed his mind.

Lawmakers and his employer have implored the insurance company to reconsider the claim, but have so far been unsuccessful. The social worker remains optimistic and looks at the blessings in his life.  He stated, “I’m a walking miracle”.  His son and sister survived the tornado and he reconnected with a long lost friend after the storm. He proposed to her in August.

We will certainly be watching this outcome of this case and continue to cheer for the Joplin social worker.  Faced with continued pain, financial uncertainty and future surgeries, many around the state will be looking at the insurance company to see if they take care of the Joplin hero.

If you have been injured and have or need to file a claim with an insurance company, be it a personal injury claim or worker’s compensation claim, the insurance company is going to do everything in its power to pay as little as possible.  This is why it is generally in the injured person’s best interest to retain an attorney as soon as possible.  It is always smart to take advantage of a free consultation with a personal injury attorney near St Louis in order to determine all of your legal options and help you determine whether you even need an attorney or not.  In some situations, you absolutely do not need an attorney.

A serious injury can create massive medical bills quickly as illustrated above by the Joplin social worker.  Insurance company adjusters work for the insurance company and do not always have your best interest as a priority. The aggressive, experienced attorneys at The Cagle Law Firm know how to deal with insurance companies and get maximum benefits for clients. If you have a workers compensation claim or a personal injury claim, call Zane T. Cagle today for a free consultation at (314) 276-1681.