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After initial denial, tornado hero OK'd for work comp benefits

The family of a tornado survivor says it's thrilled by the sudden turnaround by an insurance company to grant him workers' compensation benefits. There are some in Maryland and elsewhere who say there should never have been a denial of the claim in the first place.

The gentleman is 51 years old. He was a social worker at a group home for middle-aged men with Down syndrome when the place got wiped out by one of the worst twisters the nation has ever seen. The home had no basement for cover, so the man and a co-worker attempted to protect their charges by covering them with mattresses and lying on top of them.

This all took place in Joplin, Missouri, this past May. More than 7,000 homes were destroyed. Some 160 people died, including the three disabled men. The social worker survived, but only just.

When rescuers found him, he was unconscious and buried under rubble about a block away from the group home wreckage. Every rib in his body was broken. He'd lost most of his teeth. A shoulder was smashed. He laid in a coma for nearly 60 days and survived a fungal infection in the hospital. Doctors gave him little chance of recovery, but he walked out of rehab earlier this month - hailed as a hero by city and state officials.

What he lacked was health insurance. He couldn't afford it in his low paying job. His recovery to date has resulted in $2.5 million in bills, and more surgery is pending. But when he applied for workers' compensation, it was denied.

The insurance company said he hadn't faced any greater threat from the tornado than the general public, and under Missouri law such a threat is required to award benefits. It should be noted here that state officials report there were 132 claims for workers' compensation as a result of the tornado. Only eight were denied.

Earlier this week, though, the insurance company reversed its call. It said the action was prompted by a subsequent review and the discovery of new information. It's possible that the "new information" was the outcry that arose after news stories about the case went around the world.

A sister for the man says she's grateful that he'll get the care he needs. Still, they are consulting an attorney to explore their options before deciding whether to accept any money.

Source: AP, The Washington Post, "Insurance co. to pay 'miracle' Joplin tornado survivor's claim: 'It's a big worry off my mind'," Oct. 24, 2011

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