What Would You Do If…

Fantastic article in the New York Times about one woman living with a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) her husband received on the job. As a lawyer, you’d think the legal aspects of the article would grab me, but in fact I barely noticed them, focused as I was on the emotional story she was telling. I absorbed it as a father and husband before I noticed any legal parts of it.

Do you run through disaster scenarios in your head? I know I do. I’ve done it since I was young. I can remember lying awake at night in seventh grade, thinking about what would happen if my parents died, if my brother died, if there was nuclear war. I still think about these kinds of things when my mind is idle, and now that I’m grown, I realize that I’m not alone.

This article, and others by people who’ve actually lived through this sort of thing, are always interesting to me, because the reality of it is so different from my morbid fantasies. What would **actually** happen if my wife were to suffer a permanent brain injury? We would all be dealing with it for years, not for a few melodramatic moments, as in my fears.

That’s what was so great about this article. It brings home the reality of dealing with this for year after year. And the surprising truth: it gets better, not worse. Well, ok, it gets worse too. But it also gets better. It did for Sarah Kishpaugh, anyway. And that should give hope to all of us.

A note on the legal aspect of the article: it was an on-the-job injury, so legally it was dealt with through Washington’s workers compensation system, which paid 65% of his salary to him. They also gave him a lump sum payment for his brain injury: $7,000.

Can you imagine? He couldn’t work; could barely get around town on the bus; couldn’t drive; had seizures. And $7,000? Why did they accept such a small amount? I don’t know the first thing about Washington Workers Comp law (I work in Oregon, and I don’t do workers comp, so I’m doubly ignorant), but she gives a clue when she writes that they “recognized how dealing with the bureaucracy of our continuing claim . . . was whittling at our self-confidence, and we made a conscious effort to bring it to a close.”

In other words, the defense wore them down. It was four full years after the accident that they accepted the $7,000, because the continued fight was taking too big an emotional toll. Too often, that’s what happens. The insurance companies have all the time in the world; actual human beings with injuries do not. So they settle low to get it over with.