February 23, 2010

(Uncompensable) Nightmare at Work

In December we blogged the horrendous case of Carla Nash, a lovely woman who was mauled by a chimpanzee owned by Sandra Herold, a friend. The 200 pound chimp literally ripped her face apart. Nash, who lacks health insurance, has been hospitalized for over a year at the Cleveland Clinic. The attack destroyed her vision and rendered her face unrecognizable (and unviewable). Doctors have determined that she is not ready for a facial transplant. She has sued Herold for $50 million. Her medical bills will easily run to 7 figures; who will pay has yet to be determined.In our prior blog, we noted that Herold was trying to limit the exposure to her workers comp policy.

A little lost in Nash's tragedy is the fate of Frank Chiafari, the Stamford, Connecticut police officer who came to Nash's aid. The raging, blood-covered chimp approached Chiafari's cruiser, tore off the mirror, ripped open the door and tried to attack the policeman. Chiafari shot and killed the chimp.

In the weeks and months following the incident, Chiafari suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); he experienced anxiety, flashbacks, mood swings and nightmares. He underwent counseling. (It's not clear how much time, if any, he was away from work.) Chiafari's workers comp claim was denied: under Connecticut law, public safety officers are eligible for PTSD benefits only when they shoot people - not animals.

Compensating for the Uncompensated
The good news is that Stamford has been covering Chiafari's medical bills, although they did require him to switch to a therapist of the city's choosing. The even better news is that Chiafari has literally been working his way through this work-related nightmare. He is still on the job.

There is movement in the Connecticut legislature to amend the workers comp statute so that public safety officers are covered for PTSD resulting from the use of deadly force involving animals. As is so often the case, the law will be adjusted long after the incident that exposed the gap in coverage. Fortunately for officer Chiafari, the city, despite the comp denial, recognized the legitimacy of his claim and paid for the needed counseling. They did the right thing for an officer who did the right thing. Nothing will erase the horrible images from that fateful day last February. But life for Chiafari can go on in all its ordinary splendor - more than we can say, alas, for the ill-fated Carla Nash.

| 1 Comment

1 Comment

My PTSD would have emmanated from seeing what the animal did to that woman, not necessarily from the shooting! (of course this is a hypothetical as I sit here, comfortably and safely, behind my desk).

In Pa, we typically look at the "profession" of the claimant and whether the events were extraordinary, for that profession.
This requires a somewhat "case-by-case" analysis of the facts and perhaps a "common-sensical" approach, but it seems to be a better alternative to a bright-line rule, shoot human = stress; shoot animal = no stress. (not sure Conn. law is that simple).

It is good to see that the employer "did the right thing".

It amazes me how many unusual circumstances involve the work comp world. mds

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This page contains a single entry by Jon Coppelman published on February 23, 2010 11:35 AM.

Independent Contractors and the (Deadly) Spirit of 1706 was the previous entry in this blog.

Cavalcade of Risk and News You Can Use is the next entry in this blog.

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