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The Long Road to Justice

Heavy Machinery

In late April of 2014, a man was riding on a large construction vehicle on the farm owned by his employer.  He was working on a Saturday, which was not his normal workday. This weekend workday became an issue after he suffered a catastrophic accident, which left him a quadriplegic. Not only were the facts which led to the injury contested by the employer, the nature of the work the client was doing also became an issue.  If he was working for the employer when his injury occurred, then he would be covered by workers’ compensation insurance, but if he was working for his own benefit, then this would be a basis for denying benefits. If he was in fact working for their mutual benefit, then it would be a compensable accident. At the hearing level, the Deputy Commissioner found that he was working for his own benefit, and also that he failed to prove how his injury occurred, since his back was turned to the large boom that he claimed was lowered onto his head.

In addition to the assistance of an expert mechanical engineer at the evidentiary hearing, Mr. Powell successfully developed the facts at the hearing that showed that the client was moving his personal items so that his employer could sell the land on which a trailer he rented to the client was located.   The Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission reversed the Deputy Commissioner when it found that the circumstances were such that the client was working for the mutual benefit of himself and his employer.   The Court of Appeals of Virginia affirmed the Full Commission’s decision.  Further, the Commission and Court of Appeals found that the employer's testimony that the boom on the heavy construction machine did not lower therefore crushing the client’s neck, was not credible. The mechanical engineer who had testified on behalf of the client stated unequivocally that the accident had to have been caused by the boom being lowered on the client’s head as he was getting up to get off the machine. In this case, the retention of an expert engineer was crucial in finding the employer’s testimony not credible.

The client was awarded back compensation for the almost 4 years of his incapacity and medical benefits for life.  These benefits together have been estimated by experts to be valued between $8 million and $18 million dollars. After almost four years of litigation, the options at this point for an individual such as the client are the following: 

  1. To try to remain in the US in order to attempt to seek treatment by obtaining a hardship VISA.

  2. To remain where he was hospitalized or to be moved to long-term care, without the benefit of rehabilitation.

  3. To be rehabilitated, preferably in his home country, in a specialized hospital where he could receive the same level of care as he would receive in the US. Also, he would be in a location where he would have access to his family who could assist in his rehabilitation and repatriation.

Mr. Powell chose option three (3).  He had been serving as the client’s attorney, guardian and conservator for the client since shortly after he was retained, and felt this would be the best option and would enable the client to be able to improve his condition the most for his well-being.  Over the past 19 years, Mr. Powell and  Powell Law Group have handled several of these multifaceted cases involving foreign workers who have suffered catastrophic injuries while working in the United States. Regardless of immigration status, often it is wise to consider assisting these severely injured workers to return to their home countries to live out their days close to their families.

Fortunately, given the experience from past cases, Mr. Powell and his firm have developed relationships with a group of Life Care Planning experts, as well as governmental and medical contacts, particularly with foreign consuls and embassies, and healthcare providers in other countries, particularly from Mexico, Central and South America.

Once the client decided to return to his native country, the firm arranged for his transportation through these contacts with transportation companies, which provide door to door as well as air service, he will become one of a half dozen other clients who have benefitted from the expertise and contacts of Mr. Powell and Powell Law Group.   He is expected to be transported with his new electric wheelchair, to a special accredited rehabilitation hospital in Mexico in the coming weeks, where he will be treated by healthcare providers in Mexico. 

Further, as he has done in other cases previously, Mr. Powell will travel to Mexico to ensure that the client has been placed in a facility properly managed to fit his needs, as he will be cared for there for a period and will ultimately live in a specially designed house close to medical care to live the remainder of his life with access to his family.

The challenges of repatriation are significant and require specialized experience. Working together, Mr. Powell and the Powell Law Group workers’ compensation team accomplish what others might view as too challenging to undertake.  With the expertise described above at his fingertips, Mr. Powell has also succeeded in fashioning a unique full and final settlement in this case which should fulfill the client’s special needs for the rest of his life. The work on behalf of the client will not end when the settlement papers are signed, since there is continuing concern for hiring the appropriate caregivers in Mexico to provide continuing care for the remainder of his life.  This will again be set up with the assistance of Mr. Powell and his law firm and also with the help of retained experts in Mexico. Certainly, this is not an easy process to follow, however experience and success in doing this mean everything to a catastrophically injured worker and his family.