Thirty-seven-year old Toby Thornton, of Monona, was paralyzed from the chest down in a tractor-trailer accident that happened in June, 2009. At the time, he was an employee of Clayton County Recycling.
After the wreck, the company fired Thornton, who began receiving Social Security disability benefits in December 2009. The company’s Louisiana-based insurance carrier, American Interstate, delayed and fought paying worker’s compensation benefits for years after the accident, denying Thornton was disabled and leading to the civil suit. The insurer denied Thornton’s assertion that he was permanently and totally disabled, and claimed he could still work.
The Iowa Industrial Insurance Commissioner found that Thornton was disabled and ordered the company to pay out benefits. American Interstate appealed the decision. Since Iowa law allows flexibility in choosing what jurisdiction to file for workers compensation benefits, Thornton filed for those benefits in Pottawattamie County.
A jury in the county found that American Interstate Insurance acted in bad faith in its dealings with Thornton. The jury awarded Thornton $284,000 in damages, along with the $25 million in punitive damages. The company plans to appeal the verdict.
(Reporting by Ric Hanson, KJAN, Atlantic)