Falls in the workplace are a common source of injuries in workers’ compensation cases. They come in a variety of ways and can result in a wide array of injuries. Tucker K. was working in the family-owned direct mail business near his home in Centreville. He climbed up on a stack of pallets, but due to a structural issue with the stack, the pallets shifted. Tucker fell approximately 6 feet to the floor. The height of the fall was of lesser concern than the fact that Tucker struck the back of his head on the floor when he landed. He immediately lost consciousness. He was transported to the emergency room of a local Northern Virginia hospital, but since he had a significant head injury, the local hospital transported him to the major trauma unit at Fairfax Inova Hospital. Among other injuries, Tucker was diagnosed with a fractured skull, several hemorrhagic contusions, and a likely mild traumatic brain injury (MTBI). The doctors were concerned that the bleeding in Tucker’s brain would possibly increase the pressure inside the skull to a dangerous level. The doctors installed an intracranial pressure bolt so that his internal pressure within the skull could be monitored. The hospital also induced a coma to minimize intracranial pressure, and Tucker remained in that coma for 28 days. Once he recovered enough to begin rehabilitation, testing began to reveal the effects of the MTBI, such as impulsive behavior, difficulties with hearing, attention, concentration, and balance, and inconsistent ability to follow verbal commands. Consequently, in addition to serious physical injuries, Tucker had sustained significant neurological and psychological injuries as well. When claimants have suffered significant brain injury, representing them can be especially challenging because their outward wounds may have healed, but the internal injuries, particularly injuries to the brain, raise issues of how much control claimants in that circumstance should have over the disposition of their claim, and whether steps should be taken to place additional controls over the proceeds of any resolution of the case, such as the appointment of a family member as a guardian of the property or custodian of the person, or perhaps the appointment of a parent or sibling to act as a power of attorney for the injured claimant.
HammondTownsend accepted the challenge of representing Tucker in his workers’ compensation claim against his parents’ business. The fall from the pallets was clearly a compensable event, but the more difficult issue was making certain that the “hidden” injuries to Tucker’s brain and his “inner person” were also identified and compensated. Finally, there was an additional challenge in structure any settlement which was negotiated in a way to give Tucker the benefit of that settlement while protecting him from himself and his tendency to act impulsively.
HammondTownsend accepted this challenge and was able to negotiate a “blended” settlement in which a portion of the settlement was in the form of a direct transfer of funds to Tucker and part of it was in the form of an annuity which insured that funds would be periodically available while the principal balance of these funds remained under professional control. As compensation for his lost wages claim (indemnity), Tucker received $175,000 in a lump sum. He also received a lump sum of $ 75,000 towards his future medical expenses. In addition, he was guaranteed periodic payments of $450.00, payable monthly, guaranteed for 10 years with a final payment at the end of those 10 years. Finally, he would receive 2 additional lump sum payments of $30,000 each, one on his 35th birthday and one on his 40th birthday. Since Tucker’s neuropsychological injuries were expected to improve over time, the way the settlement was set up gave him immediate access to the bulk of the $311,000 settlement proceeds immediately, while during the time when he was most expected to be healing, and, therefore most likely to act under the sway of his MTBI, the funds were controlled and disbursed periodically, and finally, as he matured he could expect 2 additional sums on his milestone birthdays.