From Lynch Ryan: Worker's Comp Insider
Annals of Compensability: Of Heroes, Acts of God, and (No) Mercy
When the category 5 hurricane hit Joplin, Missouri on May 22 this year, Mark Lindquist was perched on a mattress which covered his clients, three mentally disabled adults. Lindquist, a social worker for Community Support Services, was following the tornado protocol in a town where basements are virtually non-existent. Unfortunately, the protocol proved utterly ineffective in the wake of 200 mile per hour winds. Lindquist was plucked from his perch and hurled a block away. He was impaled on debris, with every rib broken, his shoulder destroyed and most of his teeth knocked out. He was put into a coma for about two months, nearly dying from Zyomycosis, a rare fungal infection that killed 5 other victims. And to top things off, his three clients perished in the storm.
Lindquist's survival is well beyond the expectations of his doctors. His right arm remains in a sling, but he has use of the hand. An eye that was temporarily blinded has full sight. He moves slowly and has short-term memory loss, but is able to speak clearly.
A Hole in the Safety Net?Lindquist assumed that workers comp insurance would cover his medical costs (a whopping $2.5 million), pay for his 12 daily meds and provide indemnity for his lost wages. (As a low wage worker, Linquist could not afford health insurance.)
His assumption of coverage has proved naive.
He certainly was "in the course and scope of employment." However, under Missouri law, Acts of God are only covered by workers comp if work exposes the individual to unusual risk. If, on the other hand, there was no greater risk for Lindquist than that facing the general public at the time of the tornado, the injury is not compensable. Lindquist was working - heroically - but the work itself did not cause the injuries. His claim has been denied.
End of story? Not quite. Certainly a case can and will be made that by lying on top of a mattress, in that particular location, Lindquist was more exposed to harm than the general public. He will be able to show that had he not been working, he might have been able to drive his van out of harm's way. Given the high profile of his claim, he is likely to prevail at some point in the process.
It's worth noting that of 132 comp claims filed in the tornado's aftermath, only 8 have been denied. It may have been an Act of God, but somewhere along the line there will be an act of mercy to help a courageous worker rebuild his shattered life from the ground up.
Thanks to Mark Walls and his
Workers Comp Analysis Group
for the heads up on this story.