|Author||Subject: Listen up Workers Comp Carriers, How many more of us have to end up like this.|
|Tom L|| Posted At 00:30:49 03/25/2000
Douglas Jobe liked his job at Wal-Mart, even though it was strenuous. Jobe handled heavy
objects in the company's distribution center at Searcy, objects that were too big or too heavy
to transport by conveyor belt, like home entertainment centers. He worked 10-hour shifts,
loading a cart with bulky items, dragging them to where they were needed, unloading them,
and going back for more.
He worked hard, but that was fine. At 32, he felt healthy and believed he had a future with
Wal-Mart, a future that would let him provide for his wife, Linda, and their two daughters.
Moving around the warehouse, Jobe had no idea that the future he envisioned was growing
dimmer with every item he lifted.
On Sept. 6, 1994, three years after he’d started work at Wal-Mart, Jobe was putting in an
ordinary day's work -- loading and unloading cases of ketchup, boxes of hammers,
air-conditioners and canoes -- when he began to feel dizzy. When he got off work at 4:30
p.m., he headed directly to his home in Beebe, where the family going to celebrate Linda's
birthday. But even as he drove he felt so dizzy, he worried about losing consciousness.
When Jobe reached home and got into the bathtub, he doubled over in pain, feeling, he told his
wife, as if he had been struck in the stomach with a sledgehammer. When he noticed blood in
the water, indicating rectal bleeding, Linda rushed him to a Little Rock hospital, where they
went straight to the emergency room.
A physician found that Jobe was suffering from an incisional hernia. The strain from Jobe's
heavy lifting had caused the tissue surrounding an old appendectomy scar to gradually
deteriorate. His insides had ripped apart.
Between September and Christmas of that year, Jobe underwent six surgeries to repair the
damaged tissue. Each time, he and his doctors expected the operation to be his last. But the
area was plagued by infection. For months, Linda took care of him at home, changing
abdominal dressings four times a day, administering medication, helping him walk from the bed
to the bathroom, and caring for the couple's two girls, who were then 7 and 9 years old.
Jobe did not file a workers' compensation claim, fearing that it would sour his relationship with
Wal-Mart. Like many workers, he understood that companies want to keep such claims at a
minimum so that the rates on the insurance they carry to handle them also remain as low as
possible. "All I wanted was to go back to work," Jobe says. He let his personal medical
insurance handle the doctors' bills, while he and his family subsisted on $200 a week he
received from a short-term disability insurance policy he owned.
Linda, who had been attending college at Arkansas State University at Beebe, in hopes of
earning a nursing degree, dropped out of school. Personnel officials at Wal-Mart had asked
the Jobes to keep them posted on Douglas' condition, assuring them that his job would be
there for him when he recovered, and busy as Linda had been, she had taken time often to
call. That's one reason she was astounded, shortly before Christmas, when she went shopping
at the local Wal-Mart, only to be told upon reaching the check-out counter that her husband's
employee discount card had been deleted from the system.
"That's how I found out I no longer had a job," Jobe says. "I called, and they said, 'You've
been terminated.' I said, 'Terminated? Couldn't you all have bothered to pick up the phone and
tell me, or at least send me a letter?' They kicked me out the door like an old dog. I told them,
'If I was going to quit, you'd expect me to give you some notice.' "
With his medical bills mounting and his hernia still not healing, Douglas and Linda Jobe looked
out at a dismal year ahead. The disability insurance would pay for only another eight months.
Even with it, it was hard to keep paying the group medical insurance premiums, and now that
he'd been terminated, that policy would end soon as well. Linda couldn't get a job because of
the heavy demands of caring for her husband at home.
It was then that Jobe decided he had nothing left to lose. He filed for Workers' Compensation,
which the company denied.
In 1995, while Jobe took his claim for benefits to the Arkansas Workers' Compensation
Commission, the family struggled to survive, and he underwent another half-dozen surgeries.
He ended up having 17 in all. "I had people literally digging and scraping in my stomach and
abdomen four times a day," Jobe recalls, "but that wasn't the worst of it. On top of the physical
pain, there was all the emotional and financial stress. It was an extremely difficult time for all of
us. I worried, what am I going to do for my kids? How am I going to feed and clothe them?"
The family managed on charity. They rented a house from Linda's brother, who accepted a
HUD payment for the rent that was less than the house could have brought. Relatives
contributed what they could, and area churches offered donations. Linda Jobe recalls, "We ate
spaghetti four times a week." Of course, there was no money to pay the lawyer who was
handling their claim.
Attorney Stuart Vess of North Little Rock took the case as a favor to a friend. Normally,
Vess doesn't bother with Workers' Comp cases because, as he explains, "They are
time-consuming cases, and there's no money in it. A lawyer can't make a living practicing
By law, if a company controverts a claim the worker takes it to the commission for a hearing,
or further, to a court of appeals. If, anywhere during that process, the company is ordered to
pay the injured worker benefits, the company's insurance will also have to pay half of the
lawyer's fees, with the claimant paying the rest. Since the Arkansas Legislature enacted
sweeping changes to the Workers' Compensation laws in 1993, it has become much harder to
win cases brought before the Commission or on appeal, and that has further dampened the
willingness of many lawyers even to listen to injured workers' complaints.
In the fiscal year that ended in June 1998, 13,934 work-related injuries were reported to the
Commission. That number does not reflect all work-related injuries for the year, since many
workers, like Jobe at first, never file claims. Even so, 560 fewer cases were reported to the
Commission in 1998 than during the previous year.
A spokesman for the Commission says that "the vast majority" of those claims were paid
promptly by the employers. Of the claims that were controverted, it's hard to get an accurate
record of how many were ordered paid by the Commission or a court of appeal, and how
many remained denied. One thing that is clear, however, is that many employees whose claims
would have been approved prior to 1993 now go away empty-handed.
In Jobe's case, the Commission sided with Wal-Mart and denied Jobe's claim for benefits. It
did so even though no one disputed the fact that Jobe's injuries were directly related to the
lifting he'd done on his job.
The Commission explained that when the Arkansas Legislature passed Act 796 in 1993, it
changed many definitions of what injuries would be considered compensable. In Jobe's case,
the Commission pointed out that, while the revised law covers injuries that result from rapid,
repetitive motions, such as those producing carpel tunnel syndrome, it makes no provision for
injuries such as his, which, the Commission concluded, were not particularly rapid.
Vess, who felt Jobe had a valid claim, agreed to bring the case before the Arkansas Court of
Appeals. Vess pointed out that Jobe handled 125 boxes an hour, lifting each of them twice.
"That," Vess argued, "would require him to make 250 lifts per hour, or 2,500 over a 10-hour
Nonetheless, the court affirmed the Commission's ruling. Turning again to the 1993 law, the
majority agreed that Jobe was not eligible for benefits because, "his work was repetitive but
not rapid." Two justices dissented.
One of the dissenters, Judge John Mauzy Pittman, suggested that the rapidity of any activity
should be examined in context, and that, in that light, Jobe's work had been rapid, indeed.
"Lifting a pencil 20 times per minute may not be rapid," Pittman observed, "but lifting a piano
20 times per minute would be a different matter entirely."
Judge Wendell Griffen, who also dissented, took issue with the 1993 law itself, noting that
Jobe's claim "shows, with painful clarity, the draconian effect that the changes to our Workers'
Compensation Law has on injured workers." Griffen observed that "Jobe's gradual onset injury
would have plainly been compensable under prior law ..." but now, the judge wrote, Jobe's
only recourse might be to sue his former employer in court.
"It is regrettable," Griffen continued, "that the scheme of social legislation that was supposed to
provide prompt treatment and compensation to injured workers has developed into a process
whereby hard-working people are left injured, uncompensated, and plagued by medical
He concluded, "Although I am obligated by the rule of law and our judicial role to affirm the
result in this case, neither the rule of law nor my duty to interpret the revised workers'
compensation statute can blind and muzzle me concerning the harsh result our decision means
for this diligent injured worker."
The result remains harsh for Jobe and his family. Jobe qualified for federal Social Security
Disability Insurance in 1997, which paid $900 a month. His wife, Linda, returned to school,
became a licensed practical nurse, and has now gotten a full-time job. Even so, after 17
surgeries in four years, the couple was forced to file for bankruptcy. "It destroyed my credit,"
After 18 years of marriage, Linda and Douglas Jobe say, "We've got our family, so we're still
okay." They've made their bedroom in what used to be the den of their two-bedroom house,
so that the girls, now 12 and 14, can each have a room of her own. Douglas Jobe, though he's
been told he may never completely heal, has taken a truck-driving job. As long as he can
work, he says, he'd rather do that than stay at home and collect benefits. But he cannot unload
his own truck, and he copes with chronic pain.
"I'm not the same person I used to be," he says. He's more nervous, less patient with his
daughters. He's harder to live with because of the pain, he says. And his once cheerful outlook
is gone for good. Asked if he had any advice to offer workers, based on his experience, he
said it would be, "Trust no one."
"Take care of yourself first," Jobe said. "Because the company can get over it, but the financial
strain that you're going to have to face as an individual is something that's going to affect you
for the rest of your life."
Re: Listen up Workers Comp Carriers, How many more of us have to end up like this. (Currently 0 replies)
Posted At 12:15:45 04/10/2000
omg...i can see this very thing happening to me! i have so much empathy over your situation, and i hope by now you are doing somewhat better. such injustice in this system we are forced to deal with. i believe in my heart, what goes around will eventally come around, and these monsters and beauracrats will get what's coming to them...maybe not in our lifetime.it is disheartening to think everything revoles around money and greed, how unfortunate.i am just beginning to go through the system and i am stressed, depressed and have anxiety attacks daily. my blood pressure has gone up and i am filled with anger and a sense of hopelessness. i try to be positive, but it's damn hard going through this process, when you know they're premise is to break you. and they don't care. we must all fight this system because if we don't precious lives will be affected...forever!!
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