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A Vicious Cycle

In Colorado, insurance offers little protection to badly injured motorcyclists.

It took the state patrolman about ninety minutes to reach the scene, and when he did, he told Maggot Mike that he'd already called for an ambulance. At the time, Maggot Mike didn't have any insurance because he couldn't afford it. So he told the officer that if an emergency crew turned up, he'd refuse treatment, and even after returning home, he never saw a doctor for his injuries. Why? "Because I knew from my time with ABATE" -- he'd been an active member since 1985 and had served as the group's state coordinator -- "that motorcyclists have often been portrayed as a social burden; people think we never have any insurance, and so when we're hurt, Medicaid or Medicare has to pick up the tab. And that's not me. So I figured I'd just deal with everything myself."

Maggot Mike had to use a cane for the next three weeks, but he doesn't believe he did any permanent damage to his foot. (His Harley is recovering, too; he hopes it will be roadworthy again before the summer is out.) And even though he acknowledges that his decision regarding medical care might not have been the best thing for his health, he'd do it again -- for himself, and for the good of motorcyclists everywhere.

"I didn't want to be a bad statistic," he says.


Lisa Polisher, Dan Leventhal's partner, isn't a statistic at all -- not officially. But even though she wasn't in the accident that changed Dan's life, she's still dealing with it. The emotional toil it's taken on her has been exacerbated by frustration over the modest punishment meted out to Thomas Comcowich, the man judged responsible for the crash.

Last November, after getting nowhere with complaints to the city attorney's office, whose plea-bargain agreement with Comcowich resulted in his fine, Lisa took advantage of one of Mayor Wellington Webb's regular meet-the-public sessions to press her complaints in person. In February, she followed up with a detailed letter to Webb and numerous members of city government. The only person who responded to the missive was Councilwoman Elbra Wedgeworth, who sent a note promising to forward copies to Dan Euell, chief operating officer at Denver Health, whose care Lisa had praised, and Chief of Police Gerald Whitman. In April, Whitman mailed his own letter to Lisa. After running through his department's actions, he wrote, "I strongly encourage you to continue your efforts with the city attorney's office regarding [the] unacceptability of the plea arrangement" -- a sympathetic answer, but one that leaves Lisa back at square one.

In the meantime, Patricia Jarzobski, Dan's attorney, continues to search for ways to help her client. She thought more funds might be available for Dan in the wake of an April 30 Colorado Supreme Court ruling in the matter of DeHerrera v. Sentry Insurance. The plaintiff, Elizabeth DeHerrera, sued Sentry, her auto insurance company, after the firm refused to allow her to use the PIP and uninsured/underinsured coverage she carried on her car to benefit her son, who was injured in an accident with a pickup truck while riding an off-road motorcycle. Sentry refused to pay on the grounds that the policy only covered persons in an automobile, but the justices ruled otherwise. The decision, though, applies only to vehicles that aren't required to be licensed for operation on public highways, and Dan's was.

This leaves Jarzobski with only one practical choice: to negotiate first with State Farm, Comcowich's company, and then, paradoxically, with Aetna, Dan's own carrier, which declined to comment about his case. "I think there's an inherent unfairness in not allowing motorcycle owners and riders the same types of benefit rights you'd have in another vehicle," she says. "But the way things are, Dan's going to have to pay back something to his health-insurance company. I can't tell you how much that will be. Oftentimes we're able to negotiate subrogation lower than a dollar-for-dollar payback, and that's my hope and intent in Dan's case, since he's got a very, very serious injury. But I can't tell you what percentage of the coverage he's going to get."

As for Dan, he remains in limbo. Some of his injuries have healed, others haven't. Over a year after the accident, he continues to experience pain and mobility restrictions during the most commonplace activities, like walking and sitting. Likewise, he is still having an extremely difficult time concentrating, and although he's easily exhausted, he can sleep soundly only if he drugs himself into a stupor using painkillers. Otherwise, he suffers bad dreams, night terrors and symptoms often associated with post-traumatic stress disorder. Even watching TV can be an ordeal. A truck commercial in which the vehicle moves rapidly toward the camera is capable of triggering a flashback to the moment of his unfortunate introduction to that '95 Chevy pickup at the intersection of Eighth and Colorado.

At the same time, he refuses to stop riding a motorcycle. He's been doing so since he was a teenager, and with his injuries, he actually feels more comfortable straddling a bike than sitting in a car. But traffic panics him so much that he seldom goes into the office before ten, in order to avoid the morning rush, and lingers in a coffee shop for extended stretches each evening to allow the streets to clear.

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