Annals of Accident Investigation: The Eyes Have It?

January 29th, 2009 by

Clyde Stroman, 53, of Elmira, NY, worked as a youth aide at the MacCormick Secure Center in Brooktondale, NY. He worked with some pretty tough kids. While restraining a “client” back in August 2008, Stroman injured his right eye. If you were his supervisor, filling out the incident report, you should write: “Injury to right eye.” Sounds obvious, of course. If you were in a hurry, as I suspect his supervisor might have been, you might just write: “Injury to eye.”
The actual injury was minor. Stroman did not miss any time from work.
Sometime after the incident, Stroman had a complete eye exam. The ophthamologist found an old injury in his left eye. Stroman apparently decided to work the system: according to investigators, he attempted to convince the New York State Insurance Fund and his employer that the initial treating doctor’s reports identified the wrong eye as being injured. He gave a detailed, sworn written statement to that effect. (I’m guessing that the accident investigation form – if any – did not specify which eye was injured.)
As a result of this eye “switcheroo,” Stroman received $2,860 in workers comp benefits. Investigators estimated the potential future value of his claim to be more than $118,000. (The injury to the left eye must have been fairly severe, with some permanent loss of vision.) Unfortunately for Stroman, his ruse did not work. Investigators determined that the original injury to his right eye was minor, while the serious injury to his left eye was not work related. Stroman was arrested on January 8 and charged with falsifying business records and violating the Workers’ Compensation Law.
A Lesson in Documentation
Only time – and a trial – will determine whether Stroman is guilty. The important lesson here lies in the area of post-injury management, in those critical moments immediately following an injury. When supervisors fill out their first reports, they should carefully note not just the body part involved, but which body part. For injuries involving fingers or toes, for example, supervisors should specify which digits are involved. In this particular case, noting that the incident involved Stroman’s right eye might have saved everyone a lot of trouble (including, perhaps, Stroman himself). These details might seem trivial at the time, especially in the context of rushing someone off to treatment. Nonetheless, a few moments of careful documentation often prove critical in the weeks and months following an accident, long after the initial (and often traumatic) details have been forgotten.