It certainly wasn’t what I anticipated writing about while here in New Orleans attending RIMS 2015. But again, it wasn’t something I had planned to encounter, even though the thousands of people at this largest annual international risk conference gather expressly because something like it might. I absolutely did not expect to find myself lying flat on my back in the street, in the middle of a puddle I had been trying to avoid.

What a colossal dumbass.

It was raining very heavily here in the Big Easy yesterday morning when I caught the shuttle back to my hotel for an appointment. We were under both a severe thunderstorm and a tornado warning at the time. The hotel, the Astor Crowne Plaza on Canal Street, had a lot of activity in front of it, and the bus could only get us within about 8 feet of the curb. The driver apologized as we got off, saying he preferred to get much closer, but it was not possible in this case. It didn’t bother me, as it was a quick jaunt to the relative protection of the awning, and the comfort of building just beyond. As I approached the sidewalk in front of the hotel, there was a large puddle in the gutter that swelled into the access ramp I was attempting to traverse. 

It all happened very quickly. I stepped wide across the puddle, placing my right foot on to the angled, wet granite looking surface. As I brought my left foot forward, I recognized the sensation that something had gone tragically awry with my planned trajectory. I had the awareness that I was slipping, but I did not realize how fully enveloped I was in falling until the back of my head hit the street, and the cool, wet sensation of the puddle I had not wanted to step in embraced my backside as it eagerly occupied my suit. I was only aware of two distinct sounds during this highly personal “flash crash”; the sound of multiple vertebrae popping in my neck as I landed, similar to what I hear during a chiropractic adjustment, and the audible gasps of the 20 or 30 people huddled under the awning trying to stay dry from the rain. Those gasps, while singularly syllabic in their nature, spoke volumes. To me, they all meant “I hope the dumbass lying in the street didn’t just hurt himself”.

I think I was up almost as quickly as I went down. Immediately standing over me was a Crowne Plaza Bellman, who asked if I was ok and helped me back on my feet. I uttered something about being fine, and that my ego was the only thing that was injured. Then I got the hell out of Dodge. I just wanted to be out of there. 

At this point many things were racing through my mind. I thought of the fact that someone lying in the gutter in New Orleans is probably not an uncommon site. I also worried about what might have been in that New Orleans gutter I had just fallen in. But mostly I thought of the optics regarding my own situation. I wasn’t fully sure I was indeed “ok”, but I, having written a bit about workers’ comp for those on the road, had just taken a very public header while attending the biggest risk conference in the world. The irony was not lost on me. 

This morning, as I anticipated, I am feeling the effects of the fall. Someone fused my neck to my back during the night. I’ve discovered one benefit of double vision, however, is that I now apparently own two iPads. Now if I could just get even one of them to stop being so blurry….

I am sure I am not the only person in the workers’ compensation industry who is subjected to a plethora of jokes from others about filing a claim when something like this happens. It is the nature of the business, and the world of risk awareness and response is amplified when at a conference such as this one. But we humans are an unpredictable lot. Just as many of us urge their loved ones to go to doctors while personally refusing to do the same, there are those in the industry that would never think of filing a claim. I am one of those people. 

Being injured in a fall like that is, in most jurisdictions, a compensable event. Even if I was injured (I think I am fine, really), I’d be damned if I was the first person to file a claim with my company. I would not pursue any claim against others either. This was not the fault of a bus company that “didn’t drop me closer to the curb”, or a hotel (whose risk manager is probably at the conference) that owned that particular entrance. This one is on me. 

Let’s face it. Sometimes shit happens, and sometimes it happens to us. We still have some personal accountability in our lives. There is nothing wrong with someone filing a claim when injured doing something for the benefit of their employer. But in gray areas such as this, there is also nothing wrong with accepting that accidents happen, and we are at times accountable for our own actions.

I suspect life would be much easier if more people could embrace that idea. But what do I know? I recently fell and hit my head, so this could all just be crazy talk.


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