A reader sent us an article about an individual severely injured in the horrific storm in Joplin, MO, earlier this year. It appears there is no question Mark Lindquist is a hero. He was a low-paid social worker who nearly gave his life trying to save three developmentally disabled adults from the storm. Both houses of the Missouri legislature honored Lindquist, the Senate resolution calling him "a true hero and inspiration to others." From our review, the Missouri Senate’s assessment is clearly accurate and we salute Mr. Lindquist for his sacrifice and heroism.
The problem is heroism doesn't pay the bills. The tornado's winds tossed Lindquist nearly a city block, broke all of his ribs, shattered his shoulder, knocked out most of his teeth and put him in a coma for about two months. Medical expenses now exceed $2.5 million and the bills remain ongoing. The main social problem we all face is Mr. Lindquist had no private medical insurance as he couldn’t afford it. He assumed workers' compensation would cover his bills, but his claim was initially denied "based on the fact that there was no greater risk than the general public at the time you were involved in the Joplin tornado" according to his company's workers' comp provider. Full disclosure--we work for that provider and have to agree with that difficult initial assessment.
That reasoning has angered observers in some quarters including family, co-workers and some lawmakers. Lindquist watched the skies darken on the evening of May 22, 2011 on his way to the Group Home occupied by three middle-aged men with Down’s syndrome. When he got there, a tornado siren began to blare. The employer, Community Support Services recently put workers through a tornado drill, so Lindquist and a co-worker knew what to do. Because there was no basement or shelter and the developmentally disabled residents moved too slowly to relocate, Lindquist and the other worker placed mattresses over the men for protection, then climbed atop the mattresses for added ballast.
The EF-5 tornado was among the nation's worst of all time. It destroyed more than 7,000 homes, including the Group Home, and killed 162 people, many of whom were at work. Lindquist's survival defies common sense. After the storm, rescuers found Lindquist buried in rubble, impaled by a piece of metal. Bones from his shoulder crumbled as he was placed on a door used as a makeshift stretcher. He was later delivered to the Hospital. His injuries were so severe his body had become swollen and unrecognizable. He fell into a coma. Debris in open sores caused a fungal infection, one that killed five other Joplin tornado victims. Lindquist overcame the fungus but remained at the first hospital for about a month. Still in a coma, he was flown to another hospital for a little over a month before being sent to a rehab center where he awakened.
His recovery amazed doctors. His right arm remains in a sling, but he has use of the hand. The eye that was temporarily blinded has full sight. He moves slowly and has short-term memory loss, but speaks well.
Critics claim the insurance company's decision is unfathomable because if Lindquist hadn't been at work, they assert he wouldn't have been hurt. Some observers feel he could have jumped in his van and fled as the tornado approached.
In our view, this is an example of deflecting fault when anything bad happens. First, in blaming doctors/hospitals and care-givers, they can sometimes be demonized regardless of the losses they take in such situations. Some folks feel there was an area-wide emergency so the doctors and hospitals should all work for free and provide all durable medical equipment, prescriptions, diagnostics and other costs at no charge. Americans want unlimited, on-demand medical care for all of our problems the moment their arise. No one sees hospitals and doctors have their own bills to pay and they can go broke.
Second, there are some folks who feel problems from such unforeseen and cataclysmic events are "the employer's fault." In this model, they double-deflect the blame from the employer to the supposedly “wealthy” WC insurance carrier and assert the carrier is to somehow “blame” for simply following the state’s rules and their underwriting guidelines. The fact workers’ comp insurance requires an event to both arise out of and occur in the course of employment is forgotten. In our view, tornados aren’t risks that arise out of employment—they are risks common to the public whether we are working or not. If insurance carriers and self-insured employers have to pay for risks common to the public, the cost is wildly higher, as can be seen in this instance.
Some folks like to blame the "government" and say taxes should always be set aside and be immediately available to pay for storm injuries and damages. Sometimes government can help and sometimes government has to pay their own bills and there isn’t much left around to cover the unexpected events that clearly arise.
There are probably thousands of survivors of the Joplin tornado who weren't working during this terrible storm and have similar stories. All of them are heart-wrenching and compelling. The question is who has to pay for the societal costs of storms. In our view, Acts of God are risks of everyday life that we all have to face and prepare for. Taxes should be set aside for such things also but we have to remember taxes aren't free either.
As this is going to press, we learned
Accident Fund Insurance Company of America announced it was changing course. "Upon further review of the case, and receiving additional information on the facts involved in this situation, Accident Fund believes the appropriate decision is to honor Mr. Mark Lindquist's claim for worker's compensation benefits," Mike Britt, president of the Lansing, Mich.-based insurance company, said. "We are committed to working with Mr. Lindquist to ensure he receives all the benefits to which he is entitled and helping him to recover from his injuries."
All we can say is God bless them for doing so and helping this hero in his time of need. Kudos from KC&A to Mr. Britt and all of his staff who are also unquestionably heroes. We appreciate your thoughts and comments. Please feel free to post them on our award-winning blog.