Little Big Man

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Two weeks later, though, Dwight agreed to send Thompson to his personal physician for an evaluation. When the doctor's report came back July 30 indicating that Thompson did indeed have a herniated disk, Dwight terminated the relationship permanently, Thompson says.

Thompson filed a workers' comp claim. In a response sent last summer to state employment officials, Dwight said that Thompson didn't report his injury until almost four months after it was suffered--a clear case of Thompson trying to take advantage of Dwight falling behind in his workers' compensation insurance.

According to O'Toole, Thompson's attorney, his client is eligible for back pay (one year's worth at $600 a week) and medical costs, including $20,000 for an operation. Because Dwight's insurance had lapsed, Thompson could also be eligible for a higher percentage of long-term workers' comp, O'Toole says.

At the May 21 hearing, according to O'Toole, Dwight used the "artist defense" for forgetting to renew his insurance.

Furutani, Dwight's attorney, says her client won't pay up without a fight. "If Ed believed that Matt Thompson was legitimately hurt, he would definitely pay for his injuries," Furutani says. "I'm not saying Ed is perfect, but I know that he's gone out of his way to help people. All Ed wants to be is a sculptor, and Matt Thompson is making that hard for him to do."

Having now been unemployed for several months, Matt Thompson is finding it hard to make ends meet. He's trying to sell his truck, because he can't make payments on it. He's enrolled in vocational rehabilitation in hopes of finding a new line of work; his doctor says his injury means welding is out of the question.

"The thing that bothers me the most about all this is that I sacrificed my welding career for this man," Thompson says. "And instead of accepting his responsibility, Ed has spent more on lawyers than if he had just paid for my injury.

"I busted my balls working for Ed, and I ended up busting my back as well.

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Tony Perez-Giese