On Thursday, March 2, 2017, the world lost a beacon of hope and perseverance when my friend and client Dwight Johnson passed away. Dwight’s life and story are amazing, and are ones I feel obligated to share.
Dwight, a hard-working father of seven, made his living inspecting skyscrapers and worked on some of the most recognized buildings in the world. Our paths first crossed when Dwight came to me following the amputation of his leg after an injury at work. But this amputation was not the first for Dwight, who had, years before, developed an infection while working overseas, which caused his first amputation.
Despite losing both of his legs, nothing and no one could stop Dwight. Our paths crossed because Dwight’s workers' compensation insurance carrier was delaying his medical treatment — including vital medications and modifications to his apartment that would allow him to safely shower.
When his primary care physician recommended that grab-bars be installed for shower safety, the insurance adjuster refused to authorize the modification, and submitted it to utilization review. The UR physician then parroted the insurer’s desired outcome, denying the request, increasing the insurer’s profits and leaving Dwight literally out in the cold. Dwight had to go to the apartment complex’s outdoor pool area to safely shower.
Despite this setback, Dwight was not deterred, and we continued to fight for his right to receive proper treatment.
Unfortunately, the California State Senate under SB 863 and SB 899 had dramatically reformed the worker’s compensation system to the detriment of working Californians across the state. Under this system, and even as his lawyer, I could not simply file for a hearing and let a judge decide if a double amputee was entitled to a grab-bar in the shower. Instead, our only remedy was to appeal the UR doctor’s decision to an “independent” medical review. But that “independent” reviewer, based on the new process, would remain anonymous, would not see, speak to or examine Dwight, and even as his lawyer, I was stripped of the right to examine the doctor’s credentials or cross examine him/her on the issue.
While that “independent” review occurred, Dwight and I decided to contact CBS to make this egregious issue public. Amazingly, the power of bad publicity has an incredible way to create change. Sure enough, shortly after the piece aired, the insurance company decided it was time to settle Dwight's claim and provide him with the care he deserved.
The settlement provided Dwight and his family with more than grab-bars and allowed them to move closer to his children. But Dwight’s incredible story didn’t end there. Despite a demanding recovery, having to relearn how to walk — twice — and all the attendant issues with his double prosthesis, Dwight decided to be a force of positivity in the world.
Dwight started a shoe company and would customize shoes to distract people from staring at his prosthetic legs. He then would donate his shoes to other amputees and war veterans. He and his wife, Debbie, also worked with Amputee Empowerment Partners to assist other amputees. His selflessness, even in the face of tragedy, was something to which we should all aspire.
Dwight, your love of life and will to persevere were a gift. I thank you, and I will never forget you. Our heartfelt condolences go out to Dwight’s wife and children, and we thank them for sharing so much of Dwight’s heart, spirit, and light with the world.
Keith More is a trial attorney with Bentley & More, based in Irvine, California. This column appears with his permission.
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