A JOB INJURY, A DISPUTED CASE, A LIFE CHANGED; [STATEWIDE Edition]
Abstract (Summary)

It was in 1991 that she was hurt during a routine shift as a secretary at Danbury Hospital. A juvenile trying to escape from a locked psychiatric ward slammed Brown into a wall. She believes the attack caused a traumatic brain injury that has forced her to live a half-life ever since.

But the hospital has been fighting her, pursuing a series of appeals to stop Brown from winning benefits designed to compensate workers injured on the job.

Brown was escorting three visitors out of ward Six West at Danbury Hospital on the evening of June 27, 1991, when one abruptly stopped and stuck her foot in the door. Brown thought the woman simply wanted to say a last goodbye to the young man she'd been visiting, but when Brown looked up, the young man was coming at her.

Full Text (1647  words)
(Copyright @ The Hartford Courant 1995)

Lisa Brown talks about herself as if she were talking about someone else, her memory of who she once was trapped in a shadowy place where she has lived for the past four years.

It was in 1991 that she was hurt during a routine shift as a secretary at Danbury Hospital. A juvenile trying to escape from a locked psychiatric ward slammed Brown into a wall. She believes the attack caused a traumatic brain injury that has forced her to live a half-life ever since.

But the hospital has been fighting her, pursuing a series of appeals to stop Brown from winning benefits designed to compensate workers injured on the job.

"I think," said Brown, "they think I'm going to give up."

Danbury Hospital declined to comment, but court documents offer an insight into its position. The hospital does not dispute the incident took place but questions the link between the attack and Brown's problems.

The tale shows a side of the workers' compensation story that injured employees say is sometimes forgotten.

The system was set up to offer a fair and speedy remedy for workers hurt on the job. It tends to work best when it is clear that an accident at work caused an injury, when a worker's hand, for example, gets mangled in a machine.

But when the relationship is more tenuous, experts say, the workers' compensation system can become antagonistic and drawn-out, much like the legal system it was designed to replace.

"From both sides' perspective, you can see why it's difficult," said Brian Clemow, a Hartford lawyer. "How's the employee supposed to prove it really happened on the job? And how's the employer supposed to prove it really didn't?

"There are always employees who have a legitimate claim and have a hard time. And there are employees who don't have a legitimate claim and sneak through the system."

Attack

Brown was escorting three visitors out of ward Six West at Danbury Hospital on the evening of June 27, 1991, when one abruptly stopped and stuck her foot in the door. Brown thought the woman simply wanted to say a last goodbye to the young man she'd been visiting, but when Brown looked up, the young man was coming at her.

He had been brought in that evening by the police. Brown remembers the sight of him charging at her, his head in a tight tuck, like a football player trying to make a tackle.

He slammed into the 5-foot Brown, knocking her into a door. She grabbed him, but the youth punched her in the chest and Brown slid to the ground. She says she remembers the keys slipping from her hand and clanking to the floor.

There was no immediate sign that Brown had suffered the kind of injury her doctors would later find -- a delay that eventually would become a central issue in her case. She was treated in the emergency room and sent home. A few days later, she was back at work.

But in the months that followed, Brown complained frequently of headaches, nausea and dizziness, of feeling confused. It took several months and a battery of tests for Brown's doctors to reach a conclusion.

Brown, they believed, had suffered a traumatic brain injury. A full examination by a neuropsychologist contained an assessment of Brown's condition:

"The patient's memory, both verbal and visual, is extremely impaired with little capacity for learning and very poor delayed recall," wrote Emily B. Littman. "There is reduced ability, cognitive, memory and motor functioning."

In the airy kitchen of Brown's Middlebury home, the walls are dotted with small orange index cards. "Is stove on or off," one reads. "Is iron off," asks another.

Tasks that were once automatic, she says, are now beyond her grasp. Trying to keep track of the soccer schedules for her three children is an ordeal. Brown, 35, who before the attack had maintained a 3.8 grade point average at Mattatuck Community College, was found to have an IQ of 76.

In some circles, traumatic brain injuries are known as a silent epidemic, because they can be difficult to spot. The range of potential effects is broad.

Brown said her injury made it difficult for her to continue doing her job, so she turned to the workers' compensation system for help.

And another ordeal began.

Appeals, motions, findings

The record of Lisa Brown's journey through the state's workers' compensation system is sprinkled through thick files across the state. It is a bulky collection of paper: medical reports, legal pleadings, rulings.

To Brown, it is a tale of frustration, of winning but never getting anywhere. Even a mechanism designed to provide interim financial help for people such as Brown is tied up in legal knots.

Brown already has won her case -- twice. A workers' compensation commissioner ruled in early 1994 that her brain injury was work-related, based on hearings that took place in 1993. Two months ago, the Compensation Review Board rejected the hospital's appeal.

The hospital in August filed another appeal -- with the state Appellate Court. No one can say when round three will end.

"They don't like these claims," said Brian Prucker, Brown's attorney. "They cost a lot of money."

Most companies carry insurance to cover workers' compensation claims, but the rates are set according to experience. The more an insurer has to pay out, the higher the premiums the company has to pay.

Danbury Hospital and its insurer, the Transamerica Insurance Co., both are listed as parties to the Brown case. In the workers' compensation system, the insurance carrier often handles the legal issues.

Brown's initial hearing focused on the critical question of whether her brain injury was caused by the attack. Prucker submitted reports from Littman, Gaylord Hospital in Wallingford, the family doctor, a neurologist and the Easter Seals Rehabilitation Center in Meriden.

All painted the same picture: Brown had a brain injury and it had changed her life.

The main thrust of the hospital's defense, according to hearing transcripts, was to challenge Brown's story. It called witnesses who testified that Brown was lucid and conscious after the assault, that she did not expressly say she had struck her head.

But Linda Mackay, manager of the brain injury program at St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center in Hartford, recently said that patients suffering brain damage can feel the symptoms some time after the initial injury.

The hospital argued in both its appeals that the original ruling was flawed because it was based on the report by Littman, the neuropsychologist. The law at the time of the hearing, the hospital argued, precluded such evidence because she was not a medical doctor.

The Compensation Review Board rejected that argument, saying workers' compensation commissioners have broad latitude when it comes to evidence. The same question is now before the Appellate Court.

When injured workers complain about the compensation system, this case exemplifies what they talk about: delays, appeals and wrangling that create lingering uncertainty.

Most cases are, in fact, handled quickly. Of the 60,000 or so claims a year filed with the state workers' compensation commission, 94 percent are now resolved informally. State workers' compensation Commissioner Jesse M. Frankl has taken several steps in recent years to speed the process.

"We are the No. 1 state in the U.S. to resolve them on an informal basis," Frankl said. "I think that's terrific. I'd like to see more, but you're always going to have those cases where they fight over something."

The cases that tend to bog down are those where there is a dispute over whether an injury or illness was caused by the job, or where there are questions about the effects. In such cases, doctors, lawyers, insurers and patients often dig in and fight to win.

A distant memory

Brown used to love doing the things parents do: cooking complicated meals her children would complain about, helping them with their homework.

Now, she says, her daughter's math is too much of a challenge. She gets lost in supermarkets. Her own mother has to come over and help clean her house. She has trouble walking. She has periodic seizures.

"I don't feel like I'm being a good as a mother as I should be," she said. "When I tell them I can't do something, they get angry. They kind of understand, but they don't."

Money is a pressing issue. Since she stopped working, Brown says, she has gotten by on $126 a month in food stamps and the $290 her ex- husband pays her each week for child support.

More than the money, Brown says, it is the memory of who she used to be that haunts her. She remembers a vibrant, organized woman who enjoyed work, her studies and her children.

Brown is pretty certain that she's that woman. Every so often, a flash of memory sneaks into her brain and tells her that she is. But when she looks at who she is now, the memory dissolves into anger.

"I wish," said Brown, "I could have myself back."

[Illustration]
PHOTOS 1 & 2: (color), Shana Sureck Mei / The Hartford Courant PHOTO 3: (B&W), Shana Sureck Mei / The Hartford Courant; Caption: PHOTO 1: * Lisa Brown, at her Middlebury home with daughter, Michele, on swing, and son, Justin. PHOTO 2: * Lisa Brown loved cooking meals, helping with homework. Now, ``I don't feel like I'm being as good a mother as I should be.'' PHOTO 3: * Lisa Brown sits at her kitchen table trying to soothe a headache that she says stems from an accident she received while at work. The accident has left her with traumatic brain injury. Her children, Michele, 10, Justin, 8, and Erica, 15, play as Lisa's father, Peter Brown, prepares to drive Michele to religion class. Lisa Brown says she can no longer drive at night.

Indexing (document details)
Author(s): ANDREW JULIEN,  Courant Staff Writer
Section: MAIN (A)
Publication title: Hartford Courant. Hartford, Conn.: Oct 12, 1995.  pg. A.1
Source type: Newspaper
ISSN: 10474153
ProQuest document ID: 22919828
Text Word Count 1647
Document URL: http://proquest.umi.com/pqdweb?did=22919828&Fmt=3&clientId=20785&RQT=309&VName=PQD
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