January 29, 2009

Annals of Accident Investigation: The Eyes Have It?

Clyde Stroman, 53, of Elmira, NY, worked as a youth aide at the MacCormick Secure Center in Brooktondale, NY. He worked with some pretty tough kids. While restraining a "client" back in August 2008, Stroman injured his right eye. If you were his supervisor, filling out the incident report, you should write: "Injury to right eye." Sounds obvious, of course. If you were in a hurry, as I suspect his supervisor might have been, you might just write: "Injury to eye."

The actual injury was minor. Stroman did not miss any time from work.

Sometime after the incident, Stroman had a complete eye exam. The ophthamologist found an old injury in his left eye. Stroman apparently decided to work the system: according to investigators, he attempted to convince the New York State Insurance Fund and his employer that the initial treating doctor’s reports identified the wrong eye as being injured. He gave a detailed, sworn written statement to that effect. (I'm guessing that the accident investigation form - if any - did not specify which eye was injured.)

As a result of this eye "switcheroo," Stroman received $2,860 in workers comp benefits. Investigators estimated the potential future value of his claim to be more than $118,000. (The injury to the left eye must have been fairly severe, with some permanent loss of vision.) Unfortunately for Stroman, his ruse did not work. Investigators determined that the original injury to his right eye was minor, while the serious injury to his left eye was not work related. Stroman was arrested on January 8 and charged with falsifying business records and violating the Workers’ Compensation Law.

A Lesson in Documentation
Only time - and a trial - will determine whether Stroman is guilty. The important lesson here lies in the area of post-injury management, in those critical moments immediately following an injury. When supervisors fill out their first reports, they should carefully note not just the body part involved, but which body part. For injuries involving fingers or toes, for example, supervisors should specify which digits are involved. In this particular case, noting that the incident involved Stroman's right eye might have saved everyone a lot of trouble (including, perhaps, Stroman himself). These details might seem trivial at the time, especially in the context of rushing someone off to treatment. Nonetheless, a few moments of careful documentation often prove critical in the weeks and months following an accident, long after the initial (and often traumatic) details have been forgotten.

| 1 Comment

1 Comment

Very informative and right to the point - like the report should read. This brought to mind a reporting tool that I was first exposed to in my law enforcement career and later adapted for safety director use but do not often see in accident reporting circles are "supplemental reports". In their simplest form they act to capture information that may need detailed explanation or has been missed or excluded from the original report. In addition to this obvious use, the supplemental also can serve a variety of other uses, witness statements, affidavits, property or supporting evidence discovered, secured or revealed after the scene is processed - or when multiple parties need to weigh in on the particular investigation.

While this may occur on or about the time of the incident it also can be utilized anytime (years even)after the incident as additional information is received.

Elements of the supplemental would incorporate the report number, date/time of the original incident, involved person/victim, location, witness or reporting person names and contact info, classification of the incident - originally and subsequent (like "slip/fall" changed to "workplace violence" or "false reporting") to the investigation.

Most importantly in my opinion the availability of a supplemental report allows investigators to secure the information and statements from people who will be very LONG GONE and unavailable (dead?)when the comp case comes to trial. Digital recordings are helpful but their use in evidentiary proceedings may require additional authenticity verification.

After writing, reviewing and processing thousands of these, I can attest to the impact and value a properly developed and written supplemental report can have. Those who appreciate detail will like having more than a blank sheet of paper to work with.

Oftentimes people will take the path of least resistance and skip trying to figure out how to document additional (critical) information for lack of an appropriate medium to capture that data - that could make all the difference in the world!


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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Jon Coppelman published on January 29, 2009 1:50 PM.

Cavalcade of Risk #70 and other news of note was the previous entry in this blog.

Wyoming Workers Comp: Frontier Justice? is the next entry in this blog.

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