As members of the Joplin community, we were deeply affected by the May tornado, and the destruction and loss of life and suffering it has caused our friends and neighbors. We are grateful that our office was not occupied when the tornado demolished it. And as Joplin workers' compensation lawyers, we have been following with great interest the story of Mark Lindquist, one of the undisputed heroes of the deadly tornado.
The story of Mark Lindquist almost became a tragedy itself, after his employer's insurance carrier refused workers' compensation benefits to cover the injuries he sustained on-the-job during the tornado. Lindquist was working as a social worker at a group home for developmentally challenged adults when the tornado hit. The job paid barely above minimum wage; not nearly enough for him to afford personal medical insurance.
When the tornado siren sounded, Lindquist and co-worker Ryan Tackett were taking care of three men with Down's syndrome. Although the facility had no basement to retreat to, the two employees had had tornado drills and knew what steps to follow to keep their clients safe. Lindquist and Tackett covered the three men with mattresses for protection, then they climbed atop the mattresses for added weight. Apparently this was necessary because the three clients could not move quickly enough to relocate to a shelter in time.
"I told Ryan, 'If you've ever prayed before, now is the time to do it,'" Lindquist later said.
When the deadly EF-5 tornado actually hit, its 200 mph winds tossed Lindquist nearly a block. His survival was miraculous indeed, but his injuries were severe: every single rib broken, one shoulder obliterated, chunks of flesh ripped out, and most of his teeth knocked out. Lindquist remained in a coma for about two months.
Sadly, the three clients he tried to save were all killed.
To date, Lindquist, 51, has medical bills exceeding $2.5 million. He requires 11 daily prescription medications and will need yet more surgery. And although both houses of Missouri's legislature have honored Lindquist as a true hero--his heroism cannot pay his bills.
Lindquist assumed that his employer's workers' compensation insurance would pay his bills, since his injuries were received while performing his work duties. However, in a denial that shocked and angered his family and many others, Accident Fund Insurance Company of America refuted his claim. In their letter of denial, the company said their decision was "based on the fact that there was no greater risk than the general public at the time you were involved in the Joplin tornado."
"I think they need to take another look at the circumstances and revisit the claim," state Rep. Bill Lant, R-Joplin, said. "What he did went beyond heroics."
On Monday, Oct 24th, Accident Fund Insurance reversed its denial and agreed to provide full benefits. They claimed their original decision was based on a part of Missouri's Workers' Compensation Law, which limits recovery for injuries received during a tornado to situations where the employee was subjected to a greater harm than that of the general public.
In our opinion, the fact that he stayed in the group home, lying exposed on top of a mattress while trying to save his clients, did indeed subject him to greater harm than the general public--who were at liberty to move to a place of safety.
"Accident Fund (now) believes the appropriate decision is to honor Mr. Mark Lindquist's claim for workers compensation benefits," Mike Britt, the insurer's president, said in the statement. "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."
If you have been injured in a work accident you may need legal representation. Please call the Joplin office of Aaron Sachs and Associates today and ask about our free initial consultation with a workers' compensation lawyer. Currently we have five offices statewide, in Joplin, Springfield, Cape Girardeau, Columbia and Kansas City.