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Prison Guard Wins Fishing Tournament and Workers Comp Case

Guard Wins Comp CaseIn October 2015, Illinois Department of Corrections prison guard Lance Fracher collected an additional $48,000 as a part of his workers comp claim settlement involving injuries associated with his job. The prison guard claimed that his hand and wrist were injured by turning locks as a part of his job at the Menard Correctional Center.

Today, Fracher has filed five claims yielding more than $183,000 in cash payouts along with his salary that provides him $66,000 annually in his new job as a southern Illinois Vienna Correctional Center guard. This amount did not include payments for his medical expenses associated with recent surgery to repair Fracher’s shoulder injury.

The prison guard was a target of an Illinois fraud investigation when it was found that he participated in a local fishing tournament while collecting tax-free disability for his injuries. The investigation was launched by then IDOC Director Salvador Godinez once photographs had surfaced showing Fracher fishing on a boat. At that time, Godinez said he had “absolutely zero tolerance for employee misconduct of any type.”

At the time of the investigation, the prison guard was not working but receiving temporary total disability in an amount to cover his full salary as regulated by law to provide injured employees “extended benefits.” These payments allow correction officers injured by inmates to recover from their injuries without a loss in pay.

ER Visit Showed No Sign of Injury

Lance was off from work for nearly one year on full pay making a claim that he was unable to work after a fight incident occurred in October 2015 between inmates. A group of guards including Fracher attempted to intervene, landing the prison guard in the emergency room. However, attending physicians could find no injuries during an ER exam as stated in the physician’s report.

The $48,000 tax-free settlement was completed in September 2015 that paid a claim for injuries received during the fight. This amount included the 15 percent lawyer fee paid to his Swansea attorney Tom Rich. This was the fifth workers’ compensation payout since the injuries occurred. However, Fracher had lost two previous claims filed for coverage for repetitive trauma injuries where physicians gave testimony supporting the claim of injuries. However, the hearing officer denied the petitioner additional benefits indicating that the information Fracher provided to his medical experts and a witness was inaccurate.

During the hearing, the prison guard testified that job duties required him to turn keys to doors and apply leg restraints, waist chains and handcuffs in addition to operating buttons, cells, doors and writing. The petitioner complained of numbness in his hands, wrist, and elbow that tends to come and go.

Expert Testimony Supports Aggravated Injuries

The testimony provided by doctors on Fracher’s behalf indicated that his injuries were either aggravated or caused by his work-related duties, which makes them compensable under Illinois law. The hearing included testimony by the petitioner that even though he continues to fish after his recent shoulder surgery, he finds that he “has to change hands a lot.” This is in response to photographs that were submitted showing the prison guard hunting and fishing. The petitioner testified that he has a loss of strength that forces him to use a different type of bow.

Even with Fracher’s reported weaknesses, the arbitrator sided with the Illinois Attorney General finding that the petitioner was not entitled to receive benefits for repetitive trauma caused by his job duties. The arbitrator said that Fracher had switched job duties at the prison so many times and performed almost every task available at the facility that he did not maintain any duty long enough to suffer injuries caused by repetitive trauma.

As of 2010, Menard Correctional Center guards have received more than $20 million in workers’ compensation benefits. Many of them have claimed they sustained elbow and wrist injuries caused by operating locking mechanisms and turning keys at the facility. Some arbitrators handling hearings for worker’s compensation benefits are increasingly questioning whether they receive accurate information that the job duties of turning locks at prisons and correctional centers directly cause repetitive trauma injuries.

Even though hearing officers have denied two previous claims by Fracher for benefits to cover repetitive trauma, the petitioner has made an appeal to the Worker’s Compensation Commission.