Wilkinson is a likeable former residential building contractor, a Brit who as a young man drove around the globe in a London bus. In October, 2001, then 56 years old, he started to work at Ground Zero. The site had progressed beyond recovery efforts to cleanup but was still formally called a crime scene. He helped to clear the wreckage for Verizon's large installation at Ground Zero.
On Jan. 8, 2002, working late at night in dim lighting, he tripped over a bent rebar, falling to the ground on his right knee while breaking his fall with his right arm.
Wilkinson hobbled for a month until his supervisor told him to seek care. An orthopedist repaired a torn meniscus and ruled out work. That was in June of 2002. His employer laid him off.
Wilkinson says he filed a workers' compensation claim with the former employer's insurer, the New York State Insurance Fund, which has paid 778 claims arising out of the attack and its aftermath. He filed and first pursued his claim by himself, but hired a lawyer in November when benefits were not forthcoming. He was awarded them at a hearing in early 2003.
The knee problem, apparently misdiagnosed at the start, actually led to a total replacement later in 2003 and a post-surgical complication that sent him for several weeks into a hospital. But before then he had began to receive entirely separate, unconnected streams of benefits.
One was a medical monitoring program paid for by the federal government. After he heard about it in 2002, he went for a full day of tests. The doctors told him he was depressed, had an acid reflux, and had "World Trade Center cough."
Wilkinson continues today to get federally funded annual checkups. He told me, "It is an amazing physical, and they've got all my history so that if anything develops they'd got everything there."
Mount Sinai, where the exam is performed, arranged for a private philanthropy to provide an acid reflux--related drug that the State Fund had disallowed, most likely because his claim against the fund didn't include acid reflux.
His continued care at Mount Sinai has from the start been uncoordinated with his knee treatment paid for by the State Fund, which also paid for a rotator-cuff repair relating to that fall at Ground Zero.
In a way, Wilkinson is a man with two bodies, two medical profiles. And two disability benefits.
The State Fund awarded him a total permanent disability of about $1,600 a month. It sends someone out each year to snap a photo of him. He declined an offer to settle the claim for $98,000.
He's also receiving federal social security disability insurance benefits at about $1,800 a month.
For his involvement at Ground Zero, the Red Cross gave him a $10,000 check.
And because he was working in a crime scene, Wilkinson asked for and received a $30,000 check from a New York State Fund for crime victims.
He didn't get a check from a recent class action settlement with New York City. But he knows about the new Zadroga Act, which directs over $2 billion dollars in compensation to workers such as him, and he wants to get his share.
PETER ROUSMANIERE is an expert on the workers' compensation industry.
September 1, 2011
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