On Wednesday, May 5, 2010, Linda McClease nervously walks into an office building in the Pembroke I Building in Virginia Beach, Virginia to attend a Workers’ Compensation hearing. In front of her, sat Deputy Commissioner Lee E. Wilder presiding as the judge. Seated beside her was the lawyer of her previous employer, Tidewater Fibre Corporation.
Although, McClease was the claimant, Wilder’s calm and rational focus was dedicated to the defendant, Tidewater Fibre Corporation’s lawyer, as if she were invisible. In order for McClease’s voice to be heard, she had to intercept the casual conversation the two were engaged in.
After casually conversing with the employer’s lawyer, Wilder finally turns to McClease, however, not with the intention of questioning her or, reviewing the information she brought along. Instead, Wilder tells her to pay another visit to orthopedic surgeon, J. Abbott Byrd, III, MD.
McClease says, “Dr. Byrd told me there was nothing he could do for me. I would like to be seen by another doctor.”
Wilder face transitions from pale to red. His voice emerges amplified as he lunged forward across the table in McClease’s face. “You can’t see who you want to see!”
McClease informed Wilder of her rights according to Virginia’s Workers’ Compensation laws. “I’m suppose to have a choice of three doctors and I was never give that choice.”
Wilder interrupted McClease’s defense of her rights. “That’s who I decided to send you to, and that’s where you’re going!”
McClease says, “What about the money benefits that’s owed to me? I haven’t worked in three years.”
Wilder responded back in a loud voice of contempt. “Don’t come at me like you’re so innocent when it’s your own fault! You should have been out looking for work!”
McClease says, “How can I look for work when I’m in constant pain from not receiving proper medical treatment. ” She tries to show Wilder her permanent handicapped pass issued to her by the doctors at the Chesapeake Free Care Clinic.
Wilder begins talking over her. “If you don’t stop talking, I’m going to close this case!”
McClease’s injuries started taking its toll due to the intense atmosphere Wilder had created. She stands up hoping to get some relief from her “throbbing lower back” and the “sharp, shooting pangs going from her head to her legs.”
Wilder blatantly disapproves. “Sit down, Ms. McClease!”
“I can’t,” McClease says. “I’m in pain.”
Wilder continues to yell. “You were fine a minute ago!”
“If I were ‘fine’ I would not be here.”
Wilder changes the subject. “Are you going to Dr. Byrd?”
McClease reluctantly surrenders.
Wilder and the Tidewater Fibre Corporation’s lawyer walks out of the room. McClease passes out and is rushed to the hospital.
Too Cruel To Imagine
Can you imagine this happening to you? Linda McClease didn’t. She woke up that morning feeling hopeful that her long battle with the iron-horse, Workers’ Compensation, would finally end. However, Deputy Commissioner Lee E. Wilder had another agenda. “I was angry, frustrated and highly-insulted,” says McClease. “He needs to be removed from his position. If you can’t uphold the law then you have no reason working there.”
A String of Deceptive Practices
Deputy Wilder’s behavior may have stressed McClease and further aggravated her injuries, however, it did not surprise her. During the past three years, everyone involved in this workers’ compensation ordeal has displayed equally suspicious behaviors.
Suspicious Behavior #1: J. Abbott Byrd, III, MD was constantly indecisive. “In the beginning, he told me not to work,” says McClease. “When I came back to him again I told him that my condition had not changed. I still couldn’t sit or stand long. I had dropped a plate because I couldn’t lift anything anymore. He still insists on sending me back to light-duty. I told him nothing changed from the last time when he told me not to work. Why should I go back? He answers me and says, ‘let them figure it out.’ That’s not the answer from a doctor looking out for my well being.” Dr. Byrd writes her a prescription for a single point cane and handicap parking. “Now what professional driver do you see hobbling around on a cane?” McClease says.
Suspicious Behavior #2: Dr. Byrd’s gross negligence could have cost McClease her life.
“I’m only allergic to one medicine, Naproxen,” says McClease. “This was written in my file but, Dr. Byrd writes me a prescription for it anyway, proving he never even read my file.”
Suspicious Behavior #3: McClease had another appointment with orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Byrd she was unable to attend. She informed the workers’ compensation nurse, Janet Gallagher, who never told Dr. Byrd she had canceled. This later caused McClease a great deal of trouble.
Suspicious Behavior #4: After Dr. Byrd tries to give McClease a wrong prescription, she requests to be seen by another doctor. He sends her to a pain management doctor, Robert M. Spears, DO. Dr. Spears knew exactly where to examine McClease. However, he keeps quiet and adheres to Dr. Byrd’s order of returning her to work full duty, which unknowingly to McClease, was his decision after she could not attend the previous appointment.
Suspicious Behavior #5: As a medical professional,Dr. Byrd had a great deal of influence in McClease’s case. One would think Dr. Byrd would have done all he could to provide accurate information. “Even though he received my X-rays from Patient First, he never examined me,” says McClease. “He never looked at my back or my neck. He just told me to squeeze his hand and he touched my foot.” Dr. Byrd’s silence about her X-rays was an unethical and potentially harmful action. McClease learned of her injuries from Chesapeake Free Care Clinic and chiropractor, Dr. John Fenn who did their job by explaining to McClease what her injuries were. “My injury is to my lower back. My L5 is compressed. My T1, the top part of my neck, is pressed against my skull. I have slight Scoliosis from my SI Joint being out of place. The SI Joint keeps the hip in place. I actually walked around for a year and a half with my hip out of place. I also have arthritis in my hip, back and neck from being out of place.”
Quality of Life Destroyed
Workers’ Compensation and all of it’s puppets, played a role in sabotaging the quality of McClease’s life. “Life as I knew it has been turned upside down” says McClease with a quiver in her voice. “For the first time in my life, I was forced on food stamps. I’m in constant pain. I was very active before my injury. I worked full time. I was involved in the ministry at my church. I was a member of the state choir traveling around. I loved running; now, I can barely walk. My car is a stick-shift and it hurts to drive it. I can’t complete my grocery shopping in one day. I was forced to have someone live with me because I couldn’t even walk to my own kitchen or stand long to fix me something to eat.. I don’t have my own money. I was always independent and now to have life snatched away from me like this is not something easy for me to deal with. I’m taking antidepressants which helps with depression but, not with the pain. The person who I am today, I have no idea who she is. I’m forced everyday to look in the mirror at this pathetic person I have become. Now, three years later, after I hurt my back, I still can’t attend church services on a regular basis because of the pain. “
Tidewater Fibre Corporation, McClease’s previous employer, also are equally to blame. “T.F.C. fired me. And before they did that, they stopped my medical insurance. I applied for unemployment and they lied to the V.E.C by telling them I abandoned my position so I couldn’t get unemployment benefits. Virginia’s Workers’ Compensation laws needs to be reformed because if I lived anywhere else in America, I could’ve sued T.F.C.”
Restoring What is Owed
All McClease wants is what rightfully belongs to her. The Virginia’s Workers’ Compensation Commission Employees’ Pamphlet states: “Medical expenses for conditions caused by the accident or occupational disease are payable for as long as necessary…While temporarily unable to perform any work, an employee is entitled to 2/3 of his or her gross average weekly wage up to a set maximum weekly limit.” McClease says, “I need my money benefits owed to me. I’m unable to work because of a work-related injury. I need proper medical treatment. Workers’ Comp. refuses to pay it. I want to get better and the chances are slim because I had to wait so many years to get proper medical treatment and I’m still waiting. I still believe and trust God that I’ll get better.”
Employees’ Pamphlet, “The Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission” VWC.