by Donna Quist
In 1979, I joined the Air Force, following the tradition of my family. I sought a coveted slot in the Air Medical Evacuation Squadron.
After two years of hard work, I held orders to report to flight school in 60 days. Seven days later, I was rear-ended at a stoplight by a car going 55 m.p.h. I was shoved through the intersection; the driver kept going. I was hospitalized for three weeks with severe whiplash and two torn back muscles. I knew that the minute the flight surgeon was notified, my dream job would disappear.
Friends pressed me to call an attorney. At first I was too depressed, but later I became angry, realizing this woman had destroyed my dreams. I would sue.
Six weeks later, there was no word rescinding my orders. A few months later, miraculously, I was living my dream job.
When my attorney asked about my condition, I told him honestly I was usually in pain. My job required lots of lifting. Nonetheless, I couldn’t see the flight surgeon or be grounded.
My attorney said, “A guaranteed minimum $500,000 for loss of career.”
With the idealism (or stupidity) of youth, I told him that I didn’t want money, I wanted to fly Med Evac. He had to settle the case.
Months later, he said he could only get $14,200. It sounded like a fortune, but he explained that after the Air Force claimed for my medical care and his fee, I’d get $3,500.
I had my dream job, so I told him to settle.
When I signed the papers, he handed me a check for $8,200. My eyes bulged. I knew that amount couldn’t be right. That was a year’s salary for me, tax free!
My attorney explained that my injury was honest and probably permanent, yet I would get less than anyone in the settlement. That bothered him. He contacted the Air Force to convince them to lower their claim. They agreed on one condition: if he’d reduce his fee to me, the Air Force would match it up to 50%.
He called their bluff, dropping his fee 50%. He said he saw so many people wanting to scam the system. While he understood my position, he believed (accurately) my injuries would catch up with me. He wanted to make sure I had as much compensation as I could under the circumstances.
One year later, the military forced me into another field. Five years later, I was medically retired due to back problems from that accident. I went home to family in northern Virginia a very scared young woman.
At age 30, with no transferable skills, my back injury limited me to a non-physical profession. Cost of living in Virginia was high, but the settlement money had been invested and allowed me to buy a home. With my entry-level wages, I never could have saved enough to purchase a home.
I literally owe the roof over my children’s heads to the generosity, kindness, and integrity of that attorney.