Missing Leg Invisible to Heartless System

Author Subject: Missing Leg Invisible to Heartless System
Pamela Wimp Posted At 20:08:09 02/21/2000
Missing Leg Invisible
To Heartless System

You or I would look at the steel bars that jut out from Krystyna Maliszewska's pants cuff and realize with one glance that she no longer has a right leg below the knee.

To the state Workers' Compensation Board, however, the artificial leg doesn't prove that she's really missing her leg.

In a reality-defying decision issued last month and defended yesterday by a spokesman for the workers' comp chairman in Albany an administrative judge ruled Maliszewska had provided "no prima facie medical evidence" of her amputation.

Nanny Krystyna Maliszewka
In plain English, neither the metal bars, nor the stump below her hip, prove that she's missing most of her leg.

Four years ago, she was crushed by a runaway car that jumped on an upper West Side sidewalk while she was working as a nanny. The child was killed.

Nothing could be a starker reminder of that day than the metal bars that are attached at what used to be the middle of her thigh.

"I went to four hearings," said Maliszewska, 51, of Greenpoint, Brooklyn. "It was a matter of going there and showing myself. They saw this." She gestured to the cuff of her pants.

Her claim for compensation dragged on for more than three years and included medical records from all the hospitals where she was treated.

The workers' compensation system is supposed to quickly come to the aid of people injured at work and also protect employers from certain lawsuits. But to many workers, it has become a kind of cruel joke, where cases drag on for years while insurance lawyers fight over who has responsibility for payments that often amount to just a few dollars a week.

"They never talked to me at the hearings. Not once," she said. "I don't have any money. My sister came from Poland to take care of me. She puts everything on the table for me. We live in a room at St. Stanislaus Kostka Church, because it has no stairs."

Maliszewska was nearly killed Jan. 23, 1996, when a car jumped the curb at 97th St. and Broadway. The 18-month-old she was caring for, Constancja Dupuy, died instantly. The car crushed a parking meter and drove through a health food store.

The accident was covered in the Daily News and other papers.

So why hasn't she gotten any workers' compensation payments?

"We have not received the prima facie medical evidence documentation necessary to establish the case for the injury that you have described," a spokesman for Chairman Robert Snashall said yesterday.

Even if Maliszewska had not appeared faithfully at all the hearings with living proof, medical records that support her claim were given to the compensation board.

For instance, a report was supplied by Helen Hayes Hospital in Rockland County, where Maliszewska was sent for care after her surgery.

"She underwent several procedures and eventually had a right AKA [above-the-knee amputation] on 3/4/96," wrote Drs. Mary Vasquez and Arun Bhauttacharyya.

The "stump [is] healing with a few scabs on the suture line," the report says.

I asked Chairman Snashall's spokesman why this didn't prove that her leg had been amputated even if the judge chose not to believe his own eyes.

"If she or her attorney were of the mind to submit the prima facie medical evidence, then the case can be reopened," said Chairman Snashall's spokesman.

But what if she already gave you that, plus showed her missing leg to the judge?

"I can only refer you to the statement I already gave you," said Chairman Snashall's spokesman.

Perhaps if she had kept the actual amputated leg and frozen it at home, she could have brought it to a hearing and proved that it fit exactly to her stump, and thus gotten a few dollars.

The outrageous treatment of Maliszewska happens to far too many workers, particularly immigrants who work in garment shops, says JoAnn Lum, who is with the National Mobilization Against Sweatshops.

"People, Americans, Latinos, all nationalities, they come to the hearings, they cry," says Arek Tomaszewski, a former asbestos remover who is still waiting for his asthma claim to be decided after eight years and 24 hearings.

The system is dominated by insurance companies that want to limit their claims, so the endless delays help their cause, says Trinh Dong of the Chinese Staff and Workers Association. The lawyers for the workers typically operate on a percentage of the claim, so they rely on a volume business, with little knowledge of any one client.

"The first 3 1/2 years on Krystyna Maliszewska's case were taken up with arguments about which district should handle the case," said Yuichi Tamano, who is with the anti-sweatshop group and is helping her.

"It is hard to determine what the proper length of time in a case such as this," said Chairman Snashall's spokesman.

Not really.

Three and a half years is way too long.

And it's even simpler to describe the decision telling Krystyna Maliszewska to take a walk.

Chairman Snashall doesn't have a leg to stand on.

Del Re: Missing Leg Invisible to Heartless System (Currently 0 replies)
Posted At 22:09:42 02/23/2000

You can also read this article, which was published by the New York Daily News here

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