Of Wooden Legs and Wooden Lawyers

June 13th, 2007 by

Chuck Bodine was an appliance repairman for Colorado based American Appliances, Inc. In June of 2005 he stepped out of a company truck and collapsed in a heap. (That’s how drivers often are injured – getting in and out of their trucks). Bodine’s artificial hip had shifted and sent him sprawling. He got a new hip, but his claim for workers comp was contested by his employer. Their attorney, Jonathan Robbins, cited an 81 year old legal precedent known as the “wooden leg” argument. Under this obscure doctrine, an accidental “injury” to a wooden leg did not qualify for workers comp. Comp covers “personal injuries” not “personal property.”
Bodine argued, naturally, that his replacement hip is an integral part of his body. “This isn’t something I can pop on and off.”
Bodine won his case in front of an administrative law judge and at the state’s Industrial Claims Appeals Panel, but for reasons unknown to the Insider, he was unable to collect a dime while attorney Robbins pursued his Quixotic appeals, all the way to the Colorado Court of Appeals. Meanwhile, unable to work, Bodine and his wife had to move in with his parents. The Court of Appeals has finally ruled in Bodine’s favor. They point to changes in the state’s comp law (in 1991 and 1994) which distinguish between internal and external prostheses. When the device is in your body, it’s covered by comp.
After two years of inordinate delays, Bodine is finally in position to collect indemnity for his many months of inactivity. Comp will also reimburse his health plan for the cost of the hip replacement. This one looks like a no brainer. But when an attorney with a theory shows up, on behalf of an employer who appears deficient in compassion and common sense, any inventory of brains is at risk.
Government Property
A Google search of “wooden legs” turned up a moving column by Beth Quinn in the Times Herald-Record about a couple of soldiers from WW II – one American, one German. Both lost legs during combat. Both suffered all their lives from recurring pain in their amputated limbs. And when they finally died, their respective governments asked that the limbs be returned. After all, these particular artificial limbs are government property. The German widow dutifully complied, but the American widow ignored the request and buried her husband with his prosthesis in place. I’m with her. If the government really wants it back, they know where to find it.
Thanks to faithful reader Jann Browning, an editor at Standard Publishing, for the heads up on this interesting case. She thought we would find it irresistible and, of course, she was right.