Using our Skills to Try and Keep a Horrific Tragedy from Getting Worse

Posted on Friday, June 21st, 2019 at 3:37 pm    

As citizens of the Hampton Roads area and many throughout the nation are now well- aware, on May 31, 2019, a gunman walked into Building Two of the Virginia Beach Municipal Center and opened fire, killing 12 Virginia Beach City Workers.

Since this horrific tragedy, many, particularly some of the families of the slain, have criticized the City for their alleged failure to be transparent in their investigation of the shooting. Others have been discussing whether Building Two should be demolished, while others argue that the building should be saved, but gutted and renovated.

While all of these issues being discussed and reported in the media are very important, as an attorney, my concern is that some of the surviving victims of this horrific, traumatic event may be suffering terribly, and at the same time, due to their lack of knowledge regarding their rights, are at risk of completely losing those rights.

Survivors who were in Building 2.
Just so we are clear, I am not speaking about the rights of the families of those taken from us on May 31, 2019 by the perpetrator. The dependents of those families are going to be entitled to death benefits under Virginia Workers Compensation law, and it is my understanding that the City of Virginia Beach has made it a priority to provide proper legal compensation to the dependents of the slain in accordance with the law as quickly as possible. Unless an issue develops there, it is unlikely that any of those families will be requiring legal representation. If they do, we will, of course, be honored to assist them.

I am talking about the right to appropriate psychiatric treatment, medication, and preservation of income to help protect the surviving victims who experienced this horrific event firsthand.

My law firm, The Work Injury Center at Joe Miller Law, primarily handles Virginia and North Carolina Worker’s Compensation cases. Our Mission is to help those whose lives have been disrupted by serious injury re-start and rebuild their future.

We have developed a bit of a niche in assisting work accident victims who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD.  The reason is that PTSD, at least in the cases that we come across, is a very serious injury that can seriously disrupt our clients’ lives.

The truth is that I have been agonizing over sending out this post. Many folks who read this will view it as an opportunistic, ambulance-chasing ploy by a lawyer that is trying to profit from a tragedy.

There is absolutely nothing that I can do about folks who hold such opinions, and frankly I am ready and willing to take the heat for those criticisms, because the stakes are simply too high.

In fact, I view it as my sworn duty as a member of the Virginia State Bar and Local Community to lend my expertise in the area of Worker’s Compensation and educate those who may not be aware that their rights may be in jeopardy.

I also view it as my duty to offer any of these victims who need my team’s representation for legal services for their workers compensation case at a deeply discounted rate. It is the least that we can do for our Virginia Beach Community, where our main office is located.

So that is what we are doing. Also know that there are no upfront attorney’s fees in relation to workers compensation claims. No one will have to stroke a check to retain our services.

Psychological Effects of Being Exposed to Mass Murder. So here is the first issue to be concerned about: If you or a loved one were in Building Two and actually witnessed the shootings, or witnessed others being killed or injured, or had to hide while the gunman perpetrated his evil, or were otherwise injured but survived, then it is likely that besides any physical injuries, you are suffering from some psychological effects of these experiences. These are symptoms which are occurring as a result of what you experienced and were exposed to on that horrible day.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD  is a long-term mental health reaction to experiencing one or more traumatic events. Some of the primary symptoms can be depression, severe anxiety and panic attacks, inability to sleep, horrible nightmares which include a “re-playing” or reliving of the traumatic events, being easily startled, being afraid to enter buildings, withdrawing from social life, and many other symptoms. These symptoms can sometimes rage for years and prevent people from returning to their former employment, in some cases permanently.  Without proper treatment, many of the worst cases of PTSD, such as soldiers returning from combat duty, unfortunately and tragically result in suicide.

Even if there is not a clear diagnosis of PTSD, those exposed to such events can still suffer from diagnosable psychiatric conditions such as anxiety and depression.

The good news is that I have seen for myself the effects of proper psychiatric treatment and therapy on my clients suffering from PTSD and many times, these effects almost appear to be miraculous. There are drugs available, for instance, that almost eliminate the awful, frightening nightmares that often accompany PTSD. There are others that cause a great reduction in the daily panic attacks that at their worst, can cause symptoms so terrible that people believe they are having a heart attack. I have seen people who were deprived of all hope due to PTSD emerge from the tragedy stronger and healthier mentally than they were before the events that precipitated their diagnosis.

The difficulty is that unlike physical injuries, psychiatric injuries may not be as obvious to loved ones or other observers of those affected by tragedies such as the shootings of 5/31.  This is especially the case because some victims, whether out of misplaced guilt, shame, or embarrassment, may be suffering from some, or all of the above-mentioned symptoms, but wait too long to seek treatment or report these symptoms to their employer. They suffer silently for weeks or months, until the symptoms finally emerge and rage out of control, but by that point, it may be too late to obtain help for their struggles from a legal standpoint.

If the victim is unable to return to work due to these issues, which is often the case, then the tragedy is multiplied even further, with a major loss of all income that could have been avoided.

Notice of the Injuries. The main impetus for this article is to educate any survivors in Building Two at the time of the shootings—as well as any survivor of any traumatic event like 5/31–to this fact: You technically only have only 30 days—in this case until July 1, 2019— to appropriately report your injuries to your employer. 

This means that if you are suffering from any of the above-mentioned types of symptoms, you should minimally send an email to your supervisor(s), NOW, advising him or her of specifically what you are going through.

Ideally, you should have already sought treatment from a psychiatrist or psychologist who is able to relate your symptoms to the events you experienced on May 31, 2019. But even if you have not yet sought such treatment, you should make clear in any such email that the symptoms you are reporting are specifically related to your exposure to the shootings that occurred on May 31, 2019.

You may respond to this that “Well, of course Virginia Beach knows about the shootings, it’s in all the papers. The City Manager is all over this. I should not have to report anything further to them.”

The problem is that according to the Worker’s Compensation law in Virginia, notice of the accident or incident is not enough. The employer must also be given timely, written notice as to the nature and cause of the injury by the injured worker who is claiming coverage for a work-related injury. In other words, yes, Virginia Beach is well-aware of the tragedy. But that does not mean they are specifically on notice of what YOU are going through as a result. Your failure to adequately report your injury could deprive you of thousands of dollars of future psychiatric treatment, medication, as well as workers compensation checks you may be entitled to as a result of the shootings.

Just so everyone is clear that this is not fiction or an unnecessary worry, I want you to know that this precise issue almost cost someone their entire Worker’s Compensation benefits in a recently-reported Full Commission case of Thomas Faigle v. New River Community College.

Mr. Faigle was a College professor who unfortunately experienced a campus shooting, and the shotgun-wielding gunman actually blew a hole through his classroom door and entered his classroom. Mr. Faigle was not physically injured, but likely like many of the survivors of the 5/31 murders, suffered from PTSD symptoms after the tragedy.

There were several issues in the case, but the one that almost cost Mr. Faigle his workers compensation rights was the question of whether he had appropriately reported his injuries to his employer.

Despite the fact that the College obviously knew of the shootings, and that Mr. Faigle had sent an email to his superiors describing how he was suffering and having some issues, he was not entirely clear that he was suffering from psychiatric issues related to the shooting. Rather, he made some vague statements, such as “I’m having an extremely hard time.”

Fortunately, the Virginia Workers Compensation Commission sided with Mr. Faigle and decided that his emails were sufficient notice to the employer of his psychiatric injuries, but it took Mr. Faigle over a year and a half after his initial application for benefits to get his decision from the Full Commission in Richmond upholding the Deputy Commissioner’s ruling. This is because the employer had appealed the initial decision in his favor. In addition, there was a dissenting opinion that held that his notice was insufficient and that therefore Mr. Faigle should have been denied benefits.

So to avoid these problems, as noted above, we recommend that if you or a loved one were in that building and are suffering from the psychiatric effects from the horrible events that occurred that day, please make sure you or the loved one/ affected city worker gives appropriate written notice of all symptoms and their cause before July 1, 2019. If you send an email, print it out and save a copy.

And if you find that you or your loved one need our assistance with any aspect of a workers compensation claim connected with the shootings of May 31, 2019, please do not hesitate to contact me directly  jmiller@joemillerinjurylaw.com or call our office at 888-694-1671.

Again, if it appears that you or your loved one require our representation to assist with a worker’s compensation claim connected to the horrific events of May 31, 2019, please know that we will be representing you or your loved one at a deeply discounted rate.