Close to 40% of Americans are obese. That’s over 93 million people, according to the Centers for Disease Control. 100 pounds or more over your ideal weight = morbid obesity.
Today’s story is not a lecture, nor is it intended to be seen as fat shaming anyone.
Rather, a look at a topic, “Often not addressed and filled with prejudice,” as Southern California personal injury attorney Shawn Steel commented when I ran this remarkable fact situation by him.
Doctor is discriminating?
“I just came from my doctor’s office, who is treating me for a really bad whiplash with, back problems and I’m very upset,” ‘Alex’ texted. “I am a victim of weight discrimination, based on what he told me and his attitude. Can we Skype? I want you to see what I look like and tell me if you think his comments amount to illegal weight discrimination.”
Within minutes I was looking at a 40-ish guy in complete denial of his obvious morbid obesity. In reply to my question, “So, what did the doctor tell you,” he stated:
• How dare you come in here drinking a Starbucks overflowing with whipped cream!
• You weigh 350 pounds, had this minor auto accident, but your weight alone is the major cause of your neck and back problems. I warned you about this last time. You have one hour to enroll in our weight management program, come back with proof, and if you do not, consider yourself discharged. I will not see you again.”
Does weight have impact?
A major study published in 2010 looked at the relationship of obesity and vehicular injuries: “BMI and Risk of Serious Upper Body Injury Following Motor Vehicle Crashes: Concordance of Real-World and Computer-Simulated Observations.”
It concluded that obese men and women—with a high BMI—have significantly greater upper body and back injuries than people of normal weight. The study looked at the bio-mechanics of accidents, In brief, the more overweight the patient, the worse the injury, just what the doctor told Alex.
Our Skype chat
Alex Skyped me from a Starbucks, and was sipping on a large drink, topped with whipped cream! At first I thought this was a joke, but it was no laughing matter.“Did you sign up for the weight-reduction program?”
“No, I am just fine the way I am and my weight should have no effect on my getting treatment or the value of my case when it settles,” he confidently replied.
Alex is completely wrong.
Attorney Steel is familiar with these fact situations, pointing out: “Prejudice against the obese is built into the legal system, so when an overweight person makes a good faith effort to follow doctor’s instructions it will help healing, and the case. You do not have to be thin at the end of six months, but the more effort an obese person puts into losing weight after an accident shows that you are serious, that you have tried to help yourself.
“Regardless of the injury, bio-mechanically the patient will be viewed as a walking catastrophe, coming into court with one arm tied-behind. So, patients and clients need to understand that 50% of every case depends upon the credibility and likability of the patient. Complainers, and unhappy people who make no effort to address their weight issues generally do poorly in court,” Steel underscored.
Effect on settlements?
Insurance adjusters — and workers compensation underwriters — are well aware of the high cost of obesity of in their worlds: longer treatment, expensive diagnostic tests, more time off work. In a typical auto accident case with an obese client, I have had adjusters bluntly say:
“Don’t go blaming my driver for your client’s back and internal injuries. What do you expect when a 300-pound body collides with a steering wheel, dashboard, or his internal organs are severely injured by all that weight compressed by a seat belt?”
I’ve seen cases with obese clients resolve for much less than with people of normal weight in a similar accident.
There are many studies showing the relationship of obesity to an increase in work-place injuries and their severity. One, “Prevalence of work-site injuries and relationship between obesity and injury among U.S. workers: NHIS 2004-2012,” concluded:
“Overweight and obese workers were 25% to 68% more likely to experience injuries of greater severity than normal weight workers.”
Moral to today’s story: The cost of obesity hits accident victims and employers right in the pocketbook.
Alex had a physician who leveled with him. This was not discrimination, rather, the truth. No one should be rewarded for voluntary behavior that is costly to society.