Watertown girl wins employee’s compensation for a leg harm that later almost led to her demise

PIERRE, SD (KELO) – A hearing examiner ruled in favor of a kindergarten teacher from the Watertown School District who filed for worker compensation four years ago for injuries in her classroom.

Michelle “Shelly” Pieper was injured on Thursday March 2, 2017 after a student in her class threw a chair that hit her left leg. She was hospitalized three times and, according to her husband, almost died.

Michelle “Shelly” Pieper. Courtesy Jason Pieper

The administrative judge will now determine the amount Pieper will receive for her injuries and interest that she owed due to years of dealing with the case. Shelly’s husband Jason Pieper said Monday he was counting on an amount of about $ 600,000.

According to an official decision, Shelly Pieper told the headmistress about the incident on the same day and returned to work the next day. On Saturday she called the headmaster because her leg continued to hurt and said she would not be on Monday. She hasn’t worked this week.

The following Saturday, her husband took Shelly to Avera McKennan’s emergency room in Sioux Falls, where she was admitted in critical condition with a dangerously high INR of 8.8, a pulse of 160, and a liver on failure. She was found to have had a blood clot in her leg as well as a potentially fatal infection known as sepsis and pneumonia.

She stayed in the hospital for 17 days. After her release on March 28, she returned to work in late May 2017. On September 18, 2017, her husband found her on the bathroom floor with seizures, according to an official decision. An ambulance flew her to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, where she stayed for 10 days. On April 17, 2018, her left knee was replaced by a Mayo surgeon.

The Watertown School District acquires employee compensation through a pool operated by the Associated School Boards in South Dakota. The statewide organization, in turn, signs contracts with a Sioux Falls-based company known as Claims Associates. The company paid two doctors to review portions of Pieper’s medical history and then denied her claim because there were other reasons for her health problems.

Administrative judge Catherine Williamson ruled that a full external review by another doctor, Jared Sutton, who was hired by the Piepers, was more thorough and weighted than Shelly Pieper’s local family doctor Jon McAreavey or the two Claims Associates paid, Randal Wojciehoski and Michael Devish, one of Avera McKennan’s teams that worked on it. Williamson said she put less weight on the opinions it received without checking a full history.

Wade Pogany, director of the school board, said in an email to KELOLAND News on Monday: “No comment on the case. We are reviewing the decision. “

Kirsten Jasper, General Counsel of the Office that Oversees the Hearing Auditors, stated, “With regard to administrative matters in general, South Dakota law provides that the matter may be challenged by any aggrieved party after a final decision and order is made by any injured party . A matter may be appealed to the South Dakota Supreme Court following a decision by the State Circuit Court. “

The administrative judge rejected Piepers’ application for legal fees. Jason Pieper said Monday that Watertown lawyers Seamus Culhane and Liam Culhane were working on his wife’s case on an emergency arrangement, which means the payment is based on the outcome. Seamus Culhane said, “Due to the nature of the matter, we cannot comment on this.”

Jason Pieper said Shelly valued the state Department of Labor and Regulation and the administrative law judges who worked on her claim. “Shelly was fortunate to have excellent lawyers who fought hard to back up her claim. Most people have no understanding of who teachers like Shelly are exposed to on a daily basis, ”he said.

The Piepers experience led Jason Pieper to testify at the State Capitol on HB 1242 earlier this year. The calculation failed. He wanted lawmakers to require employees to be able to see correspondence about themselves that existed between their employers or their insurance providers and any third party providing medical or healthcare services to that employee.

A majority on the House Commerce and Energy Committee agreed with opponents who said Pieper should have presented the proposal to the State Worker’s Compensation Advisory Board first.

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