A worker who received workers compensation benefits when he was crushed by a tractor-trailer is also entitled to a wheelchair-accessible van and compensation for his wife, who provides his in-home care, the Nebraska Supreme Court has ruled.
According to court records, Michael Simmons was employed by Bellevue, Nebraska-based Precast Haulers Inc. in October 2011 when he fell trying to activate a hydraulic lever on a fully-loaded tractor-trailer. Mr. Simmons was crushed by the tires of the tractor-trailer, which caused him a number of serious injuries, including complex pelvic fractures and bowel and bladder dysfunction. He also had one foot amputated and underwent multiple grafting surgeries to the other, records show.
Mr. Simmons required around-the-clock care when he returned home in December 2011 after spending two months in the hospital, records show. His in-home care was provided by hired professionals for about six weeks until his wife, Courtney Simmons, began caring for him from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. on weekdays and for 48 hours on weekends, according to records. Because Mrs. Simmons works a full-time job when she's not caring for Mr. Simmons, his care is provided by a certified nursing assistant on weekdays from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., records state.
In February 2012, Mr. Simmons' doctors recommended he have a custom powered wheelchair, a custom manual wheelchair and a wheelchair-accessible van. As of the May 2013 trial in the Nebraska Workers Compensation Court, Mr. Simmons said he can walk short distances — about 30 to 50 yards at a time — with a walker, and drive a car. He's been using a heavy manual wheelchair, which he said can be difficult when navigating on carpet and outdoors, records show.
At the trial, the workers compensation court determined that Precast Haulers should provide and pay for a custom lightweight wheelchair, a custom powered wheelchair and a wheelchair-accessible van, as well as reimburse Mr. Simmons $1,080 per week for home health care services provided by his wife, records show.
The court also ordered the company to reimburse Mr. Simmons for services rendered from the time he was released from the hospital to the date of trial in the total sum of $69,428.57, as well as pay his attorney fees in the amount of $36,555, according to court filings.
While Precast Haulers agreed that Mr. Simmons' injuries and medical bills are compensable, and that he is entitled to custom wheelchairs, the company challenged the other facets of the court's order. Meanwhile, on cross-appeal, Mr. Simmons argued that the amount of attorney fees awarded shouldn't be limited to the hours worked by the attorneys.
On July 3, the Nebraska Supreme Court affirmed the workers comp court's decision that Mr. Simmons is entitled to a wheelchair-accessible van, an award for attorney fees and compensation for Mrs. Simmons providing in-home care to her husband.
“Had Precast Haulers and its insurer paid (Mr. Simmons') bills and medical expenses (on time), (Mr. Simmons) would likely not have incurred such a hefty bill for attorney fees,” the ruling states. “Additionally, Precast Haulers' argument that very few bills were paid late is not supported by the record. At the time the petition was filed, the trial court found that (Mr. Simmons) had incurred $1,498,065.68 in compensable medical expenses, but only approximately $25,000 had been paid.”
The state's Supreme Court also ruled that, under Nebraska's workers comp statute, a wheelchair-accessible van is an “appliance” that “will hasten (Mr. Simmons') restoration to health and employment.”
In addition, Ms. Simmons should be compensated for providing her husband with in-home care, as Precast Haulers would otherwise need to pay for nurses to provide services on nights and weekends, according to the ruling.