When I received the case information I had to read it twice.
I had to investigate a lower back injury claim from a preacher. A preacher? There's no way that a man of the cloth would lie about an injury, right?
It certainly wasn't a situation I had encountered before.
But at the end of the day, tending to a congregation is a job with hazards like any other. I had to figure out the nature of the injury and exactly how it happened. I couldn't help but wonder though ... what does transitional work for a preacher look like? Delivering a sermon while seated?
When I visited the church, it was a gorgeous day with a cloudless, azure sky. In the office, the preacher sat across from me dressed in a black suit, white shirt and dark tie. His voice had a stentorian quality, not unlike James Earl Jones. I imagined his sermons were quite memorable.
The preacher appeared to be in discomfort. He grimaced on occasion, especially when shifting his weight. He said the accident occurred when he was stepping down from the church's altar at approximately 11 a.m. on the previous Monday. He tripped and twisted his back while attempting to remain on his feet -- but wound up falling to the floor. It didn't happen during services, so there were no witnesses.
The preacher said he experienced immediate back pain, which became worse as the day wore on. He went to a chiropractor the following day, where he was X-rayed and given an adjustment. However, he felt no improvement and now wanted to see an orthopedist and even a neurologist for further testing and treatment.
He claimed he was in extreme pain and could no longer work. He had only come into his office that afternoon to meet with me. He made sure to ask about wage replacement.
I asked the preacher to list his job duties. It turned out that in addition to conducting worship services throughout the week and tending to his congregation's needs, there were also administrative duties related to managing the physical grounds of the church and offices, supervising other church employees, signing payroll and dealing with vendors.
His supervisor was the area bishop. I winced when I thought about calling the prelate's office to confirm the minister's job duties. These were people that dedicated their lives to helping others, who was I to give them the third degree?
The call to the bishop was as surprising as it was awkward. I discovered that the minister's salary was suspended if he was out of work. Therefore, temporary total disability payments were to be made for the length of the authorized disability.
I arranged for the preacher to see a local orthopedic physician. The doctor diagnosed it as a sprain of the lower lumbar area, and recommended bed rest for three weeks, muscle relaxers and pain medication. Therefore, the minister was unable to complete his job duties and responsibilities.
My supervisor was shocked that the minister's salary wouldn't be continued while he was out of work. But it appeared there was no alternative to temporary total disability payments.
Fortunately, the preacher was an honest guy, and his very real injury lasted less than a month. It's a good thing because trying to craft transitional duty or effect an early return to work for him would have been a challenge.
When the preacher was again able to minister to his flock, my supervisor and I did our fair share of rejoicing.
MICHELLE KERR is the editor of this column and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This column is based on the experiences of a group of long-time claims adjusters. The situations they describe are real, but the names and key details are kept confidential.
September 1, 2013
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