Archive for October, 2005

“Going and Coming” exception: contractual transportation

Monday, October 31st, 2005

Under ordinary circumstances, any injuries that employees might suffer while traveling to and from work would not be covered by workers compensation. This is commonly referred to as the “going and coming” rule. There are several common exceptions to this rule, however, and a recent 4-3 decision by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court illustrates one of those exceptions: the company car. When an employer provides transportation to an employee, injuries occurring during a commute would usually be compensable.
In Wachs v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board, the case involved an employee who was killed while driving to work in a company-supplied car. The car was provided to the worker as part of a compensation contract negotiated at the time that he was hired some seven years prior to his death. The worker’s widow was able to secure benefits by providing evidence of this negotiated contract. There was some dissension by the court because the employee’s most recent contract did not explicitly address transportation, but the widow prevailed by proving that her deceased husband’s employment was contingent on his getting a company car.
Workers compensation laws vary state to state so a contractual exception may not occur in every jurisdiction, but employers should be aware that while details may vary, exceptions based on employer-provided transportation are quite common. This could include a private company car or group transportation via a company-owned vehicle, such as in the case of 14 Guatemalan migrant workers killed in Maine when the company van transporting them to work careened from a bridge into the Allagash River.
There are many other common exceptions to the going and coming rule. We recently discussed a case involving operating premises, and in that post we listed a variety of other exceptions. Here are some additional resources:
Compensability: Driving “To and From”
Extreme Commuting: Not Exactly the Sporting Life
IWIF: Going & Coming From Work: Exceptions Are the Rule

Walmart: A Modest Proposal

Thursday, October 27th, 2005

The New York Times (registration required) has published excerpts from an internal Walmart memo, in which M. Susan Chambers, Wal-Mart’s executive vice president for benefits, outlines a fascinating dual strategy of polishing the company’s public image and at the same time reducing the costs of benefits to employees. Wal-Mart executives said the memo was part of an effort to rein in benefit costs, which to Wall Street’s “dismay” have soared by 15 percent a year on average since 2002. The LA Times (registration required) has an interesting analysis of Walmart’s dilemma here.
Who Needs Experience?
Perhaps the most startling recommendation targets longer term employees, especially those deemed “unhealthy.” The memo asserts that workers with seven years’ seniority earn more than workers with one year’s seniority, but are no more productive. In other words, in the world of Walmart, experience and loyalty are worth absolutely nothing. It fact, less than nothing, because the experienced worker costs more. So unlike most employers, who value experience and try to retain good people, Walmart is in search of a method for turning over the workforce before more expensive benefits and wages kick in.
“It will be far easier to attract and retain a healthier work force than it will be to
change behavior in an existing one,” the memo said. “These moves would also dissuade unhealthy people from coming to work at Wal-Mart.”
The memo goes to observe that “the least healthy, least productive associates are more satisfied with their benefits than other segments and are interested in longer careers with Wal-Mart.” In other words, Walmart’s most loyal employees are the ones they want to get rid of. I would love to overhear the conversations at Walmarts across the country today during coffee breaks. Then again, they probably don’t get coffee breaks.
Ms. Chambers’s recommended strategy includes a reduction in benefits that older works prefer and an increase in benefits that appeal to younger employees. Thus she recommends reducing 401(k) contributions and life insurance coverage, while at the same time offering education benefits.
Ms. Chambers asserts that she made her recommendations after surveying employees about how they felt about the benefits plan. “This is not about cutting,” she said. “This is about redirecting savings to another part of their benefit plans.” And it is about showing older, less healthy associates the door.
Ms. Chambers acknowledged that 46 percent of the children of Wal-Mart’s 1.33 million United States employees were uninsured or on Medicaid. Perhaps the new hiring policies could discourage the hiring of single parents.
Discrimination in Hiring & Termination
Now that the memo is public, I have a bit of advice for Walmart. If you really want to implement this plan, you better hire a few extra lawyers. If local managers avoid hiring “unhealthy people” and systematically terminate current employees who are in less than perfect health, you are violating federal and state employment laws.
By writing the memo and by defending it in public, the company has created an amazing opportunity for lawyers. The memo is the proverbial “smoking gun.” Every termination of an employee who is perceived to be unhealthy will give rise to immediate suspicion of discrimination. Every time Walmart rejects a job applicant with obvious and perhaps not-so-obvious health issues, they are again open to claims of discrimination. The burden of proof will be on Walmart to demonstrate that they did not implement the suggestions of the soon-to-be notorious memo. Did someone say “class action suit”?
A Modest Proposal
I can feel Walmart’s pain. I can understand why they would want to get rid of any “associate” with more than a few years on the job. I can understand why healthy people would be cheaper to hire and support. And I have a plan. I can guarantee Walmart a virtually unlimited supply of clean cut, physically fit, young people who know how to follow directions. And I can get rid of all the current, aging, poorly conditioned associates over night. It’s simple. Walmart needs to outsource its personnel to the U.S. Army.
Think about it for a moment. You would have a superbly disciplined workforce, spirited, conservatively dressed, short hair, no body piercings, no obesity. You want a Walmart cheer, they’ll give you a Walmart cheer. They are all physically fit. And they carry guns, which surely would cut down substantially on shop lifting. (You might end up with a few lawsuits, but Walmart has lawyers to handle that.) The wages and benefits are marginal at best.
In return, Walmart provides logistical support for the military. Goods will be moved on time, every time. No more embarassments like Katrina. It’s a “win-win.” And best of all, the transition from the current workforce to the army can be accomplished literally overnight. Just send in the troops to remove all current employees and take over the stores. It might be a bit disconcerting at first, to have an armed cashier at check out. But we’ll get used to it. After all, you just can’t beat those prices!

News roundup: Premium rates, ADA, disability awareness, OHIO privatization, and more

Wednesday, October 26th, 2005

RIMS Benchmark Survey: downturn in commercial rates
Commercial insurance renewal premiums in the third quarter were down by more than 5% from rates in the same quarter last year, although the survey notes that workers comp was the only major line to drop by less than 5%, with an average reduction of 3.75%. However, for many respondents, the effects of hurricane season hadn’t yet been factored into prices.
ADA protects persons “associated with” the disabled
Diane Pfadenhauer discusses a less widely recognized provision of the Americans With Disabilities Act that extends legal protections to those individuals who are associated with a disabled person.
October is Disability Awareness Month
According to the Society for Human Resource Managers (SHRM), there are 33 million people in the United States with disabilities and the unemployment rate for this population is 44%. SHRM notes that many employers fear high costs associated with making accommodations for workers with disabilities, but 38% of employers have not had to spend any money on accommodations and an additional 17% have spent less than $500.
For a whole different outlook on disability, you may want to see a film called Murderball about a team of quadriplegic rugby players. Some time back, Larry King featured a very compelling interview with a few of the charismatic team members – what an inspiration!
Ohio: many oppose privatization of workers comp
Despite the recent investment scandals, it seems that many employers, attorneys, and unions are unified in opposition to the idea of privatizing the state workers’ compensation system. Ohio is one of a diminishing number of monopolistic states. The current Bureau of Workers Compensation system was established in 1995 with a nine-member Workers’ Compensation Oversight Commission. Since then, it has been credited with speeding up claims and reducing premiums by an average of more than 30%.
The Best-laid Disaster Plans Are Merely Works in Progress
Workforce features an article offering an overview of problems and issues that HR departments faced in the aftermath of the Katrina disaster. The article profiles the experiences of three large employers – Entergy, Sodexho USA, and McDonalds – and some of the creative problem-solving that was required to locate and retain workers, communicate with workers despite the collapse of the communication infrastructure, arrange payments and administer benefit programs, and assist workers and their families in resolving various psycho-social issues.
12 picks for America’s Safest Companies of 2005
Occupational Hazards recognizes a dozen companies that set their own standards for safety excellence, exceeding OSHA and EPA regulations and industry norms. Safety efforts in these companies were generally characterized by high employee involvement and superior management commitment.
Insider View of the Vioxx trials in NJ
Robert Ambrogi and J. Craig Williams from’s arsenal of law bloggers offer first hand accounts from inside the courtroom at the VIOXX trial underway in New Jersey.
Also. from Legal Talk Network’s Workers Comp Matters:
Latex allergies in the workplace with Sandra Jutras, a career clinical nurse who developed a serious level one latex allergy; Attorney Jim Brady, and Dr. Gail Lenehan, national advocate and member of the Massachusetts Nurses Association’s Congress on Occupational Health and Safety.
Medicare set-aside allocations – Jean Feldman of CHOICE Medical Management discusses the complex issue of workers compensation Medicare set-aside allocations.
Making a difference
We can all sometimes get bogged down in the status quo and wonder if it’s still worth it to try to effect a change. It’s good to be reminded how one person can make an enormous difference – rest in peace, Rosa Parks. The LA Times has a wonderful tribute to this remarkable woman. (free registration required)

Attention Shoppers: Walmart is Expanding Health Care options for Workers

Monday, October 24th, 2005

The Insider has tracked the impact of Walmart, the nation’s largest retailer, with considerable interest. We have no idea what happens to employees who file workers compensation claims, but we would guess that the company is ferociously aggressive in applying claims management/denial techniques. As with many employers, the company’s workers comp problems are compounded by the fact that more than half of their employees lack health insurance. That is about to change.
The Good News
We read in today’s New York Times (registration required) that Walmart is significantly expanding the health insurance options for its workers. The good news concerning the company’s new health insurance plan is its cost. This is a relatively inexpensive plan — as low as $11 month for individual coverage, $37 for a single parent and $67 for families. Individuals could visit a doctor three times before paying a deductible, an arrangement aimed at encouraging workers to seek preventive care. In the past, workers have had to pay a deductible before their insurance kicked in.
The Squeeze
That’s the good news. This being Walmart, we better look at the details. When Walmart says that monthly premiums would cost between 40 percent and 60 percent less than those for any existing Wal-Mart insurance policy, we need to find out why. The plan carries a $1000 deductible — a big number for most people and one which represents over 5% of the annual income for many Walmart workers. In the first year, total payments under the plan are capped at $25,000, so workers had best plan their catastrophic illnesses only after they are beyond their one year anniversary. In addition, out-of-pocket payments range from $300 for prescriptions to $1,000 for hospital stays.
As with many types of insurance, this plan works best for people who don’t need it. It’s a good fit for workers who are young and healthy, as opposed to those who are older and more vulnerable to illness. It’s one thing to have an annual check up with no follow up visits. It’s quite another for an older Wal-Mart employee, who might visit a doctor three times in a one month and then need to pay $1,000 before the company would share the cost of care. The last time I wandered through a Walmart, I saw more people likely to run up against the deductible than those who would not.
Bottom Lines and Health Care
Perhaps Walmart has taken the recent spate of bad publicity to heart. Sure, their prices are low, but consumers may have begun to balk when a company hires illegal immigrants to clean their facilities and then locks them in to prevent theft, or when many company employees end up on public assistance because they lack health insurance.
The Walmart model will be closely watched from all sides. Wall Street and Wal-Mart investors will scrutinize the bottom line, tracking the impact of the new benefits on Walmart’s profitability. There are a number of analysts hoping that the Walmart plan will prove a useful model to others in controlling spiralling health costs. On the other hand, consumer and worker advocates will focus on the impact of the premiums and the deductibles on the quality of health care available to workers. We are a long way from resolving this problem, but it is encouraging to see Walmart step into the health care arena. Whether it’s a step in the right direction remains to be seen.

Rules of Management, Written and Otherwise

Thursday, October 20th, 2005

Bill Swanson, CEO of Raytheon, has become famous for his leadership at the company. In an article published in US Black Engineer and available as a PDF at Raytheon’s website, Swanson receives high praise for his support of minority engineers. The article also presents his “25 Unwritten Rules of Management.” Not to quibble, but if I can read the rules in this article, what exactly makes them unwritten? You can even request a written copy of the unwritten rules from Raytheon, but be advised that they are currently out of stock.
As part of the Insider’s ongoing commitment to keep our readers informed of the latest trends in management philosophy, we are presenting an abbreviated version of Mr. Swanson’s 25 rules, with a little annotation, of course.
Excerpts from Bill Swanson’s Twenty Five Unwritten Rules of Management:
1. Learn to say, “I don’t know.” If used when appropriate, it will be often.
Ah yes, but if used too often, you will be out of a job.
2. It is easier to get into something than it is to get out of it.
And if you never get into anything, you are likely to be out of a job.
3. If you are not criticized, you may not be doing much.
And if you are criticized, you may be screwing up.
6. Work for a boss with whom you are comfortable telling it like it is. Remember that you can’t pick your relatives, but you can pick your boss.
Easily said by the CEO, but most of us get stuck from time to time with bosses who won’t listen. As for relatives, if they don’t behave, fire them. They can always reapply for the job.
12. Don’t be timid; speak up. Express yourself, and promote your ideas.
Unless, of course, you have a boss as in #6. In which case you’d best keep your mouth shut.
13. Practice shows that those who speak the most knowingly and confidently often end up with the assignment to get it done.
Is this akin to volunteering in the army (never do it!)? Is Swanson encouraging speaking up or shutting up?
14. Strive for brevity and clarity in oral and written reports.
How about: “Be brief, be clear?” And while you are at it, could you perhaps reduce your 25 rules to 10?
15. Be extremely careful of the accuracy of your statements.
If I am too careful, I might not say anything.
16. Don’t overlook the fact that you are working for a boss. Keep him or her informed. Avoid surprises! Whatever the boss wants takes top priority.
Easily said by the CEO! And what are we to do with the boss as in #6?
18. Never direct a complaint to the top. A serious offense is to “cc” a person’s boss.
By my calculation, this means that Swanson never hears any complaints, as he is the boss of the bosses. Works for him, I’m sure.
21. Don’t get excited in engineering emergencies. Keep your feet on the ground.
All depends on which wires you have in your hands!
22. Cultivate the habit of making quick, clean-cut decisions.
Unless, of course, they are the wrong decisions. Then see # 1 & 2 above.
23. When making decisions, the pros are much easier to deal with than the cons. Your boss wants to see the cons also.
Unless, of course, your boss is a con, in which case see #6.
24. Don’t ever lose your sense of humor.
With all due respect, there is absolutely nothing funny in these 25 rules.
25. Have fun at what you do. It will reflect in your work. No one likes a grump except another grump.
I’m not sure a grump likes another grump, but other than that, I agree.
Swanson’s subordinates are in the best position to determine whether these unwritten rules embody what it’s like to work for him. I sincerely hope he walks the talk. Surely, there are some genuine nuggets of wisdom in the complete list, but as with any wisdom, careful scrutiny is in order. You have to judge for yourself.

California court upholds workers comp for undocumented workers

Wednesday, October 19th, 2005

On Monday, California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal upheld the rights of undocumented workers who are injured at work to receive workers compensation benefits in its ruling in Farmers Brothers Coffee vs. Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board. A three-judge panel ruled unanimously, stating, “California law has expressly declared immigration status irrelevant to the issue of liability to pay compensation to an injured worker.” This ruling was issued despite the fact that the worker in question had a fraudulent Social Security card. See Roberto Ceniceros’ story in Business Insurance for insight on the issue of fraud in this case.
We’ve beaten this drum several times before, but one more time for the record: we fully endorse this ruling. We note with interest how this story is being reported by some of the “dead-tree” media. Newsday, Business Week, and the Washington Post all have headlines that read “Calif. Ruling Expands Workers’ Comp,” a phrase that is not only inaccurate, it demonstrates a fundamental lack of knowledge of workers compensation. Including immigrant workers in workers comp does not expand coverage – in most states, this is a protection afforded to all workers already, and in legal challenges, courts almost always uphold the rights of the undocumented workers. To deny them such protection would be exclusionary. It would also open employers up to civil suits and weaken the protection afforded by exclusive remedy. Not to mention the incentive it would provide unscrupulous employers to hire even more undocumented workers, and to assign them the most dangerous jobs.
Answered prayers
One quote that I am fond of citing is attributed to Saint Theresa: “There are more tears shed over answered prayers than over unanswered prayers.” A few years ago, employers in the state of Virginia had an “answered prayers” moment when the Virginia’s Supreme Court ruled to exclude illegal immigrants from the protections of workers comp. Almost before the ink could dry on the ruling, the onslaught of litigation had employers clamoring to amend state law to explicitly include aliens, both legal and illegal. But not satisfied to learn from this experience, some knee-jerk Virginia lawmakers jumped on the politically charged illegal immigration bandwagon this past February, once again trying to restrict access to workers comp protections. The bill passed the House of Delegates but was defeated in the Senate (free registration may be required to access these last two articles).
With the sentiment against illegal immigrants reaching a near-fevered pitch – witness the vigilante movements at our borders – we doubt this will be the last post we make on this topic.
For more on the topic:
Wyoming court to examine compensability for illegal immigrants
Janitors: The Big Squeeze
S. Carolina to bar workers comp for undocumented immigrants?
Modern day slavery
More on immigrant workers
Jobs that lure Mexican workers to the U.S. are killing them

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, Older Workers…and Insider Bias?

Tuesday, October 18th, 2005

The Insider has written with some frequency about older workers. With a majority of the workforce now over 40, employers and risk managers face a new set of challenges in keeping older workers healthy and productive. One recent post notes the increase in the incidence of rotator cuff injuries among older workers. We also have blogged the financial necessity that leads people to work longer. They might want to retire, but they are simply unable to do so.
One reader responded to our most recent blog on older workers by questioning whether the Insider has a bias. With all our dire warnings about risks of injury increasing with age, are we signaling to management to avoid older workers? Are we encouraging discriminatory practices?
As one who meets any known definition of older worker, I can state personally that we have no interest — and would not support — any movement to discriminate against older workers. The Insider’s job is to keep track of the data and alert our readers to any significant trends in risk and loss management, whether they involve a 16 year old summer hire or a 75 year old driver. We are not focused on age per se, but on risk. If certain risks increase with age, management needs to be aware of it and take appropriate steps to ameliorate the risk.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
The National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) has published an interesting study (PDF) of carpal tunnel claims in the workers compensation system. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) ranks second behind back injuries as the leading lost-time diagnosis. In terms of the total costs of all claims, CTS also ranks second. Here’s the kicker: compared with back strain cases, CTS claimants are more likely to be higher paid…and more likely to be older. In addition, the severity of the claim tends to rise with age.
So here we go again: The Insider is alerting management that older workers are more likely to get CTS (not a surprise, really, as CTS involves trauma that accumulates over time). And we are reminding managers that the older the worker, the more expensive the claim. Before we draw any conclusions, let’s look a little closer at the data.
Among all claims tracked by NCCI between 1996 and 2000, CTS ranks second behind lumbar disc displacement in terms of total loss costs, with just under $1 billion incurred for CTS claims 18 months after the injury. Lumbar disc problems resulted in $1.4 billion incurred at the same point in time. Here are some additional details in the comparison of CTS to lumbar strains:
: CTS cases are more likely to result in lost-time claims
: Women suffer relatively more CTS injuries, while men incur more back injuries
: Workers suffering CTS injuries are more likely to be higher paid than workers incurring back injuries.
: Compared with back strain cases, CTS claimants tend to be older (over 35)
[We need to note that NCCI defines “older” as 35 and up, which is certainly one of the more generous definitions we have seen. For most purposes, including most age discrimination laws, older work begins at 40.]
The average total incurred cost at 18 months for CTS was $12,181, compared to $29,701 for lumbar disc displacement. However, CTS accounted for 1.8 per cent of total claims, while lumbar disc comprised only 1 per cent. In other words, the severity of CTS was lower, but the frequency higher. It’s worth noting that rotator cuff sprains (another big risk as you get older — see our blog here) ranked fourth in total incurred and averaged $21,907 per claim. Once again, injuries with age-related risk factors are among the most expensive.
Responding to the Data
NCCI’s conclusion is rather blandly worded: “As the workforce ages over the coming decades, these findings suggest that insurance companies and employers need to carefully monitor some of the financial and demographic characteristics of CTS injuries.”
This wording is a bit too circumspect for the Insider. An aging workforce presents serious problems and requires concerted action. As workers get older, managers need to focus safety and prevention programs on age-related risks. Cross-train people to the degree possible, rotating them through jobs that call upon different body mechanics. If people must do the same task every day, all day, bring in a wellness expert to teach stretching and conditioning.
The solution to age-related risk is surely not discrimination. Let’s face it, given the experience of your aging workers, they are a far greater asset and less of a risk than hiring young, inexperienced strangers, assuming you could even find them. Savvy employers make the commitment to keeping all workers safe, healthy and productive, regardless of age. That’s where risk management begins and where it rightly ends.

Insurance and safety glossaries

Monday, October 17th, 2005

Have you checked out the Cool Tools in our sidebar lately? We periodically add insurance and business calcuators, glossaries, and other reference material and tools that we find in our travels. Here are a few recent finds we’ll be adding:
Glossary of Reinsurance Terms
Manitoba Centre for Health Policy’s Concept Dictionary
Complete Glossary of Health Insurance Terminology
Health & Safety Glossary
Trench Safety Glossary
Excavation Safety Glossary
MSDS Hyper Glossary
Bureau of Labor Statistics Glossary

Weblog roundup: Gulf recovery workers, managed care, pay for performance, and FMLA

Friday, October 14th, 2005

Addition to the blogroll. We welcome the Brooklyn Dodger to our growing list of resources in the sidebar. Brooklyn Dodger comments on research in occupational and public health and current events in politics related to public health, occupational health, and the environment. The blog reports on studies and articles from Journals that may not be readily available. Here’s a sampling of recent posts:
Increased Colorectal Cancer Observed Among Asbestos Exposed Workers
Association of Risk Factors for Breast Cancer with Types of Work
Workplace violence in Health Care Settings
Gulf recovery workers. Jordan Barab has been covering the health risks posed to Gulf recovery workers in the aftermath of the recent hurricanes and some legislative efforts to ensure worker safeguards. And rawblogXpoat points us to this article on the exploitation of immigrant workers who are subject to harsh living and working conditions, and facing serious risks with little in the way of safety precautions or protective equipment.
Managed care. Joe Paduda discusses “the wild world of workers comp managed care,” offering informed commentary on the competitive arena, with a rundown of the key industry players in terms of networks and service providers.
Pay for Performance. DB’s Medical Rants has an excellent post on medical pay for performance that reports on some initial studies. Initial data analysis would seem to indicate that “Paying clinicians to reach a common, fixed performance target may produce little gain in quality for the money spent and will largely reward those with higher performance at baseline.”
More on genetic testing. We’ve been discussing this issue over the last few days, and we note that Workplace Fairness has more discussion on genetic testing in its October 11th post.
FMLA mistakes. Strategic HR Lawyer points to common mistakes that employers make in connection with the Family & Medical Leave Act.

Genetic Testing, Part Two: The Heart of an Athlete

Wednesday, October 12th, 2005

Yesterday’s blog concerning genetic testing has prompted some thoughtful responses from our readers. It has also led to further research into the current and rather compelling story of Eddie Curry, a highly touted young center for the Chicago Bulls. Curry missed the last 13 games of the season and the playoffs due to a heart problem. The Bulls wanted him to submit to a genetic test, to determine whether he’s susceptible to cardiomyopathy, the ailment that killed former Boston Celtics guard Reggie Lewis and Loyola Marymount star Hank Gathers. Curry, citing his right to privacy, refused. He was subsequently traded to the New York Knicks, who say they have no intention of requiring the genetic test “because of New York’s privacy and employment laws.” Instead, the Knicks will rely on their team doctors.
John Hollinger at ESPN Insider was at the Knick’s press conference: “Isiah Thomas, [the Knicks general manager] must have said ‘I have tremendous confidence in our medical team’ about 12 times in a 20-minute [period].”
Wow. This is a loaded and truly fascinating situation. Were the Bulls being prudent in requiring the DNA test, or were they violating the ADA? Were they concerned for Curry’s well being or the team’s bottom line? Are the Knicks and their team doctors opening themselves to lawsuits (from Curry’s family, no less) for allowing him to play without knowing the details of his condition? Is the life of a 22 year old worth the risk, if he can pull down the boards and put up some points?
Hollinger has a rather scathing analysis of the risks the Knicks are taking: not the health risks per se, but the impact on the team’s future performance. He’s not impressed with their risk management skills.
The Death of Reggie Lewis
This situation brings to mind the saga of Reggie Lewis, the former Boston Celtics captain whose death from a heart ailment in 1993 is still wending its way through the courts. (A thorough and lucid summary of the story can be found here.) Lewis passed out briefly during a playoff game. He was sent to New England Baptist hospital where he underwent a number of tests supervised by a team of 12 of the most respected cardiologists in the Boston area. This team was called “The Dream Team” based on a similar phrase to describe the superior talent of the gold medal winning USA basketball of 1992. After thorough testing, the Dream Team diagnosed Lewis to be suffering from ventricular tachycardia, the most dangerous form of arrhythmia. The cause of this was believed to be focal cardiomyopathy, a disease of heart muscle. Of the various forms of arrhythmia, some are harmless and others are potentially life-threatening, such as this diagnosed one. Dr. Stanley Lewis, director of clinical cardiology at New England Deaconess Hospital and member of the Dream Team, said, “When you talk about arrhythmia’s that result in loss of consciousness’ you’re dealing with a deadly arrhythmia.”
Lewis found the dream team’s diagnosis — and its resulting immediate end of his basketball career — to be a nightmare, so he sought a second opinion. He consulted with Gilbert Mudge, a well known cardiologist who ran his own tests and declared that Lewis was not suffering from any sort of cardiomyopathy but merely from a curable neurocardiogenic fainting disorder.
Approximately two months after receiving Mudge’s favorable diagnosis, Reggie Lewis collapsed and died shooting baskets at a Boston gym. An autopsy revealed that his heart was abnormal, enlarged and extensively scarred. The state medical examiner was vague about the description of the scarring and the how it was likely caused.
Hidden Truth
Overarching this entire sad saga is the distinct possibility that Lewis abused cocaine. If this is true (his widow denies it vehemently), his failure to disclose the drug use directly impacted Mudge’s findings and those of the dream team as well. The author of this study finds plenty of blame to distribute among the blazing egos of the dream team docs, Gilbert Mudge and Reggie Lewis himself.
It is a cautionary tale, but the lessons are probably beyond the reach of the ambitious New York Knicks and their new center. In the best of worlds, people would look at all the available information and make informed judgments concerning Eddie Curry’s future. The world of professional sport is far from ideal — there is simply too much at stake. So here’s wishing Mr. Curry the best of luck as he throws up his jump shots and fights for his rebounds. Every time he loses his balance and falls to the floor, we’ll all just hold our collective breaths — to see if he is able to get up off the floor and go on with the game.