Man in Vegetative State Loses Battle for Ohio Workers Comp
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It’s December, 1995. The holidays are coming, and a man traverses the long corridors of Ohio State University, laboring to keep the box moving in front of him. George Smith buckles for a moment, clutching his stomach. The box falls and a pain that feels like a hot knife ripping through his lower abdomen. He doesn’t know it yet, but he has what doctors call a “bilateral inguinal hernia.” Milder cases of this affliction do not require surgery, while more extreme cases must go under the knife in order to prevent further complications, and Mr. Smith fell into the latter category.

Nineteen years after he injured himself on the job, George Smith remains in a vegetative state in an Ohio hospital; the result of a botched procedure. Anoxic brain damage occurs when the brain receives an inadequate supply of oxygen, causing the brain to swell and the cerebellum (a region of the brain that accounts for 50% of the total number of neurons in the brain) is forced down against the bottom of the skull. The injury triggers seizures, loss of speech, basic motor skills, and in more extreme cases, paralysis and coma.

After slipping into a vegetative state, Mr. Smith was awarded workers comp benefits and permanent total disability benefits by the Ohio Industrial Commission. In 2004, additional compensation benefits were given due to the immobile nature of Mr. Smith’s limbs. Just this past week, he and his family were denied further workers comp benefits by the Ohio Supreme Court in a split 4-3 ruling.

Mr. Smith’s attorneys had hoped to garner further workers comp support from Ohio State, which claimed that there was no evidence to date that Mr. Smith had lost the capacity to see or hear as a result of his hernia in 1995. The court stated that Ohio workers comp law does not provide compensation for loss of brain-stem function, and that doctors have not been able to establish that George Smith has lost his ability to see or hear.

In 2009, doctors determined that Mr. Smith’s eyes were physically intact and he showed no response to language. In a court statement, they revealed that there “is no reliable physical test or examination that could be conducted that will determine that the injured worker suffered definite vision and hearing loss.” An insufficient amount of evidence contributed to the court’s decision, and it must have pained Mr. Smith’s family a great deal as they try to keep him alive, even with rising medical costs. The Ohio Supreme Court is required to uphold the laws of the state (and the laws of the federal government), but one cannot help feeling for the tragic situation of Mr. Smith and his family. Our hearts go out to them.