Line cooks are used to amassing a collection of minor injuries. Cuts, burns, sore backs and bad knees come with the territory. Working through pain and illness sets apart a true professional in the kitchen. But what happens when you suffer an injury that can’t be treated with a handful of aspirin and a few shift beers?
I was working for a high profile restaurant in New York City. We had finished catering an event a few blocks away and were packing up. I manned one of the rented rolling racks standing about 7 feet tall. I managed to maneuver through the mostly empty streets without incident until one of the wheels hit a crack in the sidewalk and the rack started to topple over. I tried to get out of the way, but apparently I’m not as nimble in my clogs on the street as I am on the line. The box came crashing down pinning my left foot underneath it.
I was in shock. The pain hadn’t registered, but I knew I was in trouble. Mercifully, my co-workers rounded the corner and came to my rescue. It took 3 of them to lift that thing off me. I tried to stand and pain shot through me. Already my foot was purple and swollen, but I was insisting I didn’t need to go to the hospital. The GM came out, took one look at me, put a wad of cash in my hand and hailed a cab.
Sitting in the emergency room, the shock had worn off and the pain was excruciating. The news was bad. Two fractured metatarsals, one rather severe. Surgery might be necessary. I left on crutches, a prescription for Vicodin my only consolation.
There are 3 forms essential to a Workers Comp case in New York: The C2, an accident report to be completed by the employer and filed within 10 days of the injury; The C3, to be filled out by the injured worker detailing the circumstances of the accident and to be submitted within 1 year of the accident; and The C4, a medical report filed by the claimants physician which must be filed every 45 days. The C2 and C3 forms are available on the NY WCB website (http://www.wcb.state.ny.us
) which also contains a wealth of information for both employees and employers. I made sure all 3 forms were filed with the WCB board and my boss’s insurance company as quickly as possible.
After a week sitting at home watching bad daytime television in a daze of self-pity and painkillers it was time to see the doctor. He was helpful, and thankfully I didn’t need surgery. It was a nasty break though, and I’d have to be careful or I could cause permanent damage. He estimated at least 2 months before I could think about going back to work.
The injury had occurred on payday, so I had one full check to tide me over until my Workers Comp payments started rolling in. Benefits are supposed to begin within 18 days of the injury date but it would take almost 2 months and dozens of phone calls that escalated from polite inquiries to profanity laced threats before I saw a penny.
I submitted my medical records numerous times via fax and mail, but was constantly told by the adjuster handling my case that they never received them. During one particularly heated exchange with a supervisor, I mentioned that I thought it was rather suspicious that the paperwork that would enable me to start receiving payment kept mysteriously disappearing. The adjuster shot back that he thought there was something a little suspicious about my entire claim. He informed me that filing a false claim is a felony that is vigorously prosecuted in this state. I asked if he was threatening me and he answered that I shouldn’t be surprised if I found myself under investigation. The next day I hobbled down to their office and personally delivered the forms in question. I also decided that it was time to hire an attorney.
I was unsure which of the myriad of personal injury lawyers out there were reputable and which ones were not. I contacted the NY State Bar Association (http://www.nysba.org
) with the details of my case and they referred me to an attorney nearby. They even scheduled the appointment for me. I took every piece of paperwork that could possibly be relevant. I was seen by one of the firm's paralegals. He fired off a few questions and copied the forms I’d brought. He told me my case sounded pretty standard. He said I had a good shot at recovering some money from the insurance in the form of a settlement, but that it could take years for that. Whenever that time came, they would take 15% as their fee. No more, no less. I asked about the allegations of fraud, and he shrugged them off. I was really injured, wasn’t I? I decided to retain their services.
The first check finally arrived well over a month after the injury. It was for the maximum amount, about 80% of my weekly earnings since I was considered totally disabled. After that, I wouldn’t receive benefits again for several weeks.
When the insurance started regular payment, it was at a rate of 1/3 of my weekly pay. When I asked why the drastic reduction, I was told I was being paid according to my doctor’s diagnosis which showed I was able to work part time. I checked with my doctor, and he still had me listed as fully disabled, but the insurance refused to reconsider. One more battle for my lawyer to fight. I managed to pay my rent, but fell behind on everything else.
My hearing with the Workers Compensation Board is next month. Someone from the state will determine what 3 months of my career and having a foot that will never be the same again is worth. My lawyer suggested that amount could potentially be in the tens of thousands, but I’m not getting my hopes up. Anything that would help me catch up on my bills would be welcome relief.
After 3 months, my doctor says I’m healed enough to return to work. I still can’t run. I still walk with a limp. But even though they might have to prop me up behind the stove, but I'm looking forward to getting back to the kitchen...where at least I understand the system.