The Sunday Times had an article about tough times in Palm Beach, where the super-wealthy reside. They like to shop at Trillion, a store that kind of indicates, by the name, that if you have to ask how much something costs you don't belong in the store. The last time Bernie Madoff was in Trillion, he fell hard for a $2,000 pair of worsted spun cashmere pants, which Trillion didn't have in his size. So Trillion ordered the pants from Italy. They arrived, alas, after Madoff had been busted. I don't think he'll be needing the pants where he currently resides. His new outfits - undoubtedly lacking that fine cashmere "hand" - are provided free of charge by the state of New York.
But this is not a posting about Bernie. The subject is one Victor Leon, a 26 year old illegal immigrant who fell off a roof three years ago. He was paralyzed and now lives in constant pain. He's run up about half a million in medical expenses at St. Mary's Medical Center, with the prospect of further surgery to come. You might expect that workers comp will reimburse St. Mary's, but that is unlikely to happen. The hospital, like Leon, is on its own.
What about Comp?
In most states, despite his illegal status, Leon would be covered by workers comp, up to but probably not including the voc rehab he clearly needs. Coverage is apparently not a given in the Sunshine state. A post-injury urinalysis run at the hospital found traces of cocaine and marijuana in Leon's blood. His employer, Altec, believes that the failed drug test, combined with Leon's undocumented status, are grounds for denying his claim. Leon's lawyer, supported by a toxicologist, asserts that the test does not prove that Leon was impaired at the time of the incident. Leon admits to taking "about four puffs" the night before, but he had a good night's sleep (alas, the last of his life) and was fully alert the next morning at work.
OK. If comp does not apply, Leon can sue his employer, right? Well he tried, but failed there, too. A civil court judge ruled that Altec owed Leon nothing, because they carried workers comp for their employees...Which takes up back to Leon's comp claim, which was, of course, denied. Leon is caught up in a rather ferocious version of Catch 22.
Leon's life is ruined, not because of greed or malice (sit still, Bernie!). He lied in order to get work. He performed his job to the best of his ability. He was seriously injured through an unfortunate miscommunication with a co-worker. While he has benefitted from good medical care, he is penniless and now homeless. He would return to Mexico, but if he does, all hope of winning his legal case would be lost.
So there you have it: A tale of two broken lives in America. One man dreams of the $2,000 pants he almost got to wear and the other dreams of being able to pull on a pair of cheap jeans. There are probably some compelling lessons to be drawn from these parallel stories. I'll leave it to our readers to figure out exactly what those lessons might be.