Workerís comp gets a shock

   Can you believe the luck? Just as I was about to write a column on never getting any benefits from the thousands I pay in workerís compensation insurance every year, one of my employees goes and almost gets herself electrocuted on the job.
   In the 12 years Iíve had my own business. I have paid well over $200,000 in workerís compensation insurance premiums. During that time, only one employee filed and collected on a claim. It was for a doctorís visit and amounted to $74.
   So I was all charged up to do a scathing attack on the system when I got the news about Carla, one of my employees, who was suddenly much more energized than me.
  The call was from Lisa, the manager of the store where Carla was working. Apparently, the main "plug" for our computer system was not pushed all the way into the outlet, leaving exposed metal.
   Carla, who likes jewelry, inadvertently let one of her bracelets dangle onto the prongs of the plug, creating true retail entertainment. The whole store, including Carla, lit up.
   "Is everyone all right?" I asked, wisely suppressing an urge to ask about the computer system as well.
   "Carla got a pretty bad shock," replied Lisa. "Her bracelet turned black. She wants to go home."
   "Definitely send her home," I said, genuinely concerned. "How does she feel?"
   "Mostly scared, I think. She says she feels tingly all over. Oh, and by the way, she blew up the computer system."
   Great. I felt a strong sense of foreboding. The computers would cost thousands to replace and I had an employee who was a walking light bulb. The only saving grace was that her injury didnít sound too serious.
   Little did I know? It turns out Carla didnít go home, but straight to the hospital. Her tingles had turned into rumbles.
   We sent flowers, morbid as it sounds, and I called her that evening in the hospital.
   "How are you feeling?" I asked, hoping for an upbeat answer. 
   Her voice was weak and distant, not the cheery sing-song I had remembered. "Not so good."
  "Are you getting better?"
  "Not really," she replied. "My arms are numb, I have had headaches and my eyes are bulging out of my head. The doctor said the electricity has to get out of my body and itís being released through my eyes. I canít see very well."
   This was not good. "Whatís the prognosis?"
   "I donít know."
   Alarm bells were ringing everywhere. Lawsuit, lawsuit, lawsuit. Man all defenses. Legal trouble ahead. Carla possibly looking for free ride. Prepare to abandon ship.
   I called Hans, my insurance agent, the next morning and told him the story.
   "Relax, you have nothing to worry about," he said after I finished. "Workerís compensation is a sole remedy. Itís basically no-fault insurance. Technically, you canít be sued by an employee who was injured on the job. Thatís why workerís comp was established."
   Hallelujah. Relinquish battle stations. Discard life jackets. Catastrophe diverted.
   Two hundred thousands dollars in workerís comp insurance premium, well spent, at least for this week.
   Meanwhile, Carla had gone home. I called her the following day, still deeply concerned about her well-being, but naturally feeling more confident about my position.
   She still had blurred vision, headaches, numbness and bulging eyes.
   "Any better?" I asked.
   I didnít know what to think. Was she truly suffering? Probably. Was she exaggerating? Maybe.
   She filed her claim with our workerís comp carrier, and they called me for details. If I was suspicious, they were downright cynical. Theyíd seen and heard it all over the years. They seemed to think Carla would feel better very soon.
   And they were right. Carla was back at work within two weeks, feeling fine. Workerís comp paid all her medical bills and two-thirds of her lost wages. I paid her the other third.
   The blown-out computers did not fare as well. They were also covered under a no-fault policy. Nobody would take the fault, so I paid.



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