News

Buckley man battles for fairness

By Shawn Skager

The Courier-Herald

Shawn Murphy insists he is not asking for much.

“I'm don't want a ton of money,” he said. “I'm not out to get wealthy. It's not about draining bank accounts.”

Murphy, a 54-year-old Buckley resident and Teamster driver is currently embroiled in a workers' compensation battle with his former-employer, Todd Shipyards in Seattle, and its insurance carrier, Liberty Northwest, over a pair of injuries suffered while on the job.

According to Murphy, Todd and Liberty Northwest are not giving him a fair shake by delaying the surgeries he needs and lowballing his workers' compensation payments.

“I'm not saying that it's Todd's fault, but I got hurt on the job,” Murphy said. “I didn't ask to get hurt on the job, I just got hurt on the job.”

The first of Murphy's injuries occurred in July 2003 when he hit his head while climbing into a forklift; the second came seven months later while Murphy was on light duty at the shipyards and slipped on an icy gangway.

According to Murphy, a medical examination determined the first injury damaged the cervical discs in his neck, causing him severe pain.

In October 2003, Murphy said, he was notified by Liberty Northwest that his claim had been accepted and he started treatment.

“They accepted the claim until it started getting expensive,” Murphy said. “Then in February of 2004 they started fighting it.”

Following an examination by a doctor chosen by Liberty Northwest, who found his condition was not related to work activities, Murphy was forced to obtain a lawyer to prove his claim.

Murphy said he has been up front with Liberty about his medical history, which includes the pre-existing conditions Arnold-Chiari malformation, which affects the brain stem, and Psoriatic arthritis.

In 2002 Murphy said, he had an operation for the Arnold-Chiari in Nevada and was cleared by his doctor to go back to work.

“There is nothing in my medical history which affects anything that transpired and the subsequent injuries,” Murphy said.

Around the same time Murphy was injured again, this time while on light duty.

Although he had misgivings about his safety on light duty, which involved resupplying kiosks at various locations around the shipyard, Murphy said he had to either accept the light duty or not work at all.

“In February of 2004,” Murphy said, “I was walking up a wing wall ramp up to a ship and it started hailing. The steel was icy, cold and I slipped and fell.”

Another trip to the doctor revealed damage to Murphy's lower back.

“They've accepted this claim but they haven't done anything about it,” Murphy said. “On one hand they haven't controverted the claim, they just haven't done anything about it. They've paid for my visits to the doctor and the MRI, but haven't responded to requests for surgery.”

In July 2005, days before Murphy, Liberty and Todd were scheduled for a showdown in court, his claim for the initial neck injury was approved, as was his workers' compensation money and change of doctor request, all of which were covered under the Longshoreman and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act, a law designed to protect workers injured in the maritime industry.

Instead of proceeding with the hearing, Murphy said, he trusted Todd and Liberty to make good on their settlement.

In August, Murphy had neck surgery but said he still requires back surgery and an additional neck surgery.

Murphy said he was surprised when he got his first disability check - for $334.47 a week.

Murphy said the weekly amount is artificially low because it is based on earnings during a year in which he didn't work much.

“They used October of 2003 back to October 2002,” he said. “They take the full amount, divide it by 52 and then take 66 percent of that. I didn't work that October, November and only worked three days in December.”

Murphy said they should have used a different year to calculate his average weekly wage.

“I was making $18.35 an hour,” Murphy said. “Unemployment would be about $496 a week.”

Now Murphy is seeking a settlement that will compensate him for his loss of livelihood and lifestyle.

“I can't do any physical work,” he said. “I'm not a wimp, but I'm in constant pain. I used to walk from Carbonado to Wilkeson. Now I'm in pain just sitting here.

“My right arm doesn't work well I need help with my e-mails,” Murphy added. “I used to be a volunteer firefighter. I used to run five miles a day.”

In July, Murphy will again challenge Todd and Liberty in court.

“I just want a reasonable lump sum or pension,” he said. “Nothing about this has been beneficial to me.”

Liberty Northwest Media Relations spokesperson Beth Shiaa said her company does not generally give out information on specific claims.

“We believe the claim is being properly processed in accordance with the Harbor Longshoreman's Act,” Shiaa said.

Shawn Skager can be reached at sskager@courierherald.com.

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