[This post contains descriptions of serious bodily injury.]
I have been practicing workers’ compensation law for 25 years, and it is a subject I feel strongly about. The first injured worker I represented opened my eyes to how many people there are dealing with disabling workplace injuries and the often overwhelming financial and legal burdens that come with them.
My first workers’ compensation client was a young woman named Lila* who had been injured in a factory accident. Lila had been working a desk job in a doctor’s office and was laid off. She then got a new job working in the factory. On her first day at work, she was put on a machine called a “chopper.” The chopper had a guillotine-like blade that was used to cut cardboard to specifications for packing furniture. The problem was that sometimes the cardboard would get stuck in the machine. Lila asked her coworkers what to do in this situation. They said, “Just push it on through.”
During Lila’s first week of work, the cardboard got stuck in the chopper, and she went to push it through as she had been told. We don’t know what happened, but somehow the blade was engaged while she was pushing the cardboard through and came down, cutting off her hand above the wrist. Lila picked up her hand, wrapped it in a rag, and went to her supervisor.
Lila was taken by helicopter to Duke Hospital where her hand was reattached. This took six surgeries.
While she was still in the hospital recovering and under the influence of serious pain medicine, Lila received a call from an insurance adjuster who wanted to ask her some questions about the accident. Lila agreed, and the adjuster began asking her questions. She got every question right except the last one. The last question the adjuster asked was, “Lila, you know you shouldn’t have put your hand in that machine?” To which Lila responded, “Yes, sure I do now.” After that the adjuster said that she didn’t have any more questions.
They used this answer to deny Lila benefits. Never mind that she was a probationary employee in her first week on the job. Never mind that she never received any training on this machine. Never mind that she was under the influence of pain medicine when she answered the questions. They denied her benefits because they claimed that Lila had violated a company rule or policy.
It took a year and a half for Lila to win her case, but she was finally granted workers’ compensation benefits for this horrifying accident.
After I met Lila, it became apparent to me that there were many injured workers in her same situation. They suffered horrific injuries on the job, were disabled from work, and were losing their homes and even their spouses. Some were living in their cars, literally starving from crippling medical bills and being unable to work. That’s when I decided to help these people, and I have been doing so ever since.