Nfld. & Labrador

36 years spent in poverty and pain, injured worker says

A St. John's man who has spent more than three decades enduring poverty and pain as a result of a workplace injury says he's considering cancelling his compensation payments altogether.
The CBC's Azzo Rezori talks to injured worker Fred Palmer about his experience navigating workers compensation. 3:43

A St. John's man who has spent more than three decades enduring poverty and pain as a result of a workplace injury says he's considering cancelling his compensation payments altogether.

Fred Palmer was injured while working on a railway in northern Ontario 36 years ago.

Palmer's ankle was crushed in the incident. He also injured his back and sustained a blow to the left side of his face. 

Palmer said he's been in chronic pain ever since, and describes himself as a prisoner of the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board.

"They're trying to kill me with pain, they're trying to kill me with stress and they're trying to kill me with poverty," Palmer told CBC News in 2009. 

At the time, Palmer was receiving a disability pension of $200 a month from the province of Ontario.

Seven years later 

Palmer now receives $230 a month. 

"I'm still in pain and in poverty," he said. "Not being able to eat right or get anywhere, do anything — isolated all the time and just frustrated and angry."

That anger, he said, got him into trouble with the law earlier this year when Palmer was convicted of being in possession of a dangerous weapon for a dangerous purpose. 

When his upstairs neighbour turned on the washing machine at 1:30 a.m. one day, Palmer said he snapped.

Palmer receives $230 a month from Workplace Safety and Insurance in Ontario but says it's not enough. (CBC)

"I took my dad's hammer and I went downtown. I went from TD Place to George Street, banging on the light poles down there."

"Bang, bang, bang. Ding, ding, ding, you know, [saying] 'Justice or the hammer, justice or the hammer.'"

Palmer said years of living with chronic pain have taken a toll on him, and he finds it hard to cope with stressful situations.

Untreated brain injury 

Palmer never received treatment for his brain injury, and said he often gets aggressive when having to deal with Workplace Safety and Insurance and Social Services.

"I recognized after a while that where some people would be able to sit down and look at the paper they're getting — the letter, the abusive letter they get from Worker's Comp — they would be able to rationally, calmly sit down and write back a letter," Palmer said. 

"There's nothing wrong with me except I'm being robbed of my money and my medical care..." - Fred Palmer, injured on the job 36 years ago

"I couldn't. I'd just freak, I'd just go crazy, I'd just well up with stress and anxiety and anger and rage."

Palmer describes Workplace Safety and Insurance as criminally abusive, both financially and emotionally. 

"They tell the government, 'We're trying to weed out the scammers and so we'll frustrate them and we'll anger them and we'll get rid of them,'" he said. 

"But if you are really injured, crippled for life or brain injured — or both like me — then those abusive appeals processes don't do you any good. They're torture. They're torment, mental torment."

Angry and alone

Palmer said he's been without heat and light for the last two months, but anger and anxiety keep him from contacting anyone. 

He said he's had it with the appeal system, and has even considered cutting off his compensation payments altogether. 
"I'm going to be free of them abusing me," said Palmer.

"They won't be controlling my life anymore. They won't be telling me, 'Oh Mr. Palmer, you're a fraud,' and cutting me off."

When Palmer spoke to CBC News in 2009, he had countless letters from doctors verifying his injuries. Still, he said, he couldn't get his monthly payments increased. (CBC)

Palmer said he wants his case to be settled, and wants a court to rule that he be paid in full. From there, Palmer said he would take care of his own medical care. 

"There's nothing wrong with me except I'm being robbed of my money and my medical care, and if I had that, there'd be nothing wrong with me," he said. 

"I'd be back to work, I'd be functioning, I'd be happy like I want to be — like I always was."

Thousands like him 

Palmer said in the ten years he's been researching the issue, he's come across thousands of people who attribute their serious health problems, even heart attacks, to the stress of workers' compensation claims.

"Others have committed suicide. Many, many — so many I can't count," he said. 

"So if they know that severe chronic pain can drive you to suicide or cause a heart attack or a stroke ... with today's medical technology and everything else, you can determine if somebody's in pain or not."

"I'm a prisoner," Palmer told CBC News from his St. John's home. "This is my little cave, this is my prison."

With files from Azzo Rezori


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