Former Solvay employee battles for workers comp

Mike & Victoria Flanders talk with Jim Kenyon

At the age of 52, Victoria Flanders never thought she would have to wear dentures after having most of her teeth extracted. She told CNY Central's Jim Kenyon, "It's changed my whole mental state. I never thought I would have dentures, let alone at this age." Flanders says her tooth loss is one of the more visible effects of her exposure to harmful materials and a three year nightmare over whether she's entitled to workers compensation.

Her story begins in early 2010 at the Solvay Village hall where Victoria Flanders worked as a part-time custodian for 300 dollars a week. She says at the time, the historic building was undergoing some renovation work on walls and woodwork that date back perhaps a hundred years.

She says the renovation work was done during the day in enclosed areas by village workers and students from BOCES who wore breathing masks while they sanded old varnish from the woodwork. Flanders says it became her job at night to vacuum a large amount of dust they left behind. She says the dust was harmful and after three weeks of exposure, she came down with a chronic cough. "It felt like an elephant sitting on my chest." she explained.

Flanders said eventually her doctor said she could no longer work at the Village hall. She claims she was never warned about any potential dangers. "I was not. They never tested it. They never warned me of that." she said.

More than 3 years after she says she was exposed, Flanders health continues to decline. She says most of her problems are related to side effects from all the medications she's been prescribed to treat her pulmonary disease. "I did not have the problems I had until I was on this plethora of medications."

Victoria says the side effects to the medications led to the loss of her teeth, diminished bone density, the loss of 3 inches in her height, a left hip replacement, sinus surgery and has left her with an extreme feeling of fatigue.

Her husband, Mike says his wife's illness has taken a toll, "I just have watched for 3 years of her suffering. It's not my wife. This is not the woman that I married."

Victoria added, "It's ruined my family life. I used to be a happy go lucky, do everything kind of a gal. I think i've been out twice this month."

The Flanders say those three years of suffering were compounded by a battle with Solvay's insurance carrier and their lawyers over whether Victoria is entitled to Workers Compensation plus reimbursement for certain medical expenses. She was making $300 a week as a custodian. At first, Victoria was awarded $200 dollars in compensation by a Workers Compensation Judge, but that was eventually cut to $100 a week. In August, a Workers Compensation Board Judge said she was not entitled to any monetary award.

The Flanders have accumulated thousands of pages of documents during their fight before the workers comp board. They say Solvay's insurance carrier, Wright Risk Management hired lawyers and doctors called "Independent Medical Examiners." Records show conflicting doctor's opinions as to whether Victoria is truly disabled or whether her ailments are caused by her past on-the-job exposures to harmful dust.

Mike Flanders say the village's insurance carrier spent tens of thousands of dollars to fight a $100 a week compensation award plus reimbursement for Victoria's medications. "It's stacked against the worker because you're dealing with these large insurance carriers that have all kinds of money." he said.

The Flanders say they turned down a settlement offer of $56 thousand, because they have no idea what the future holds for Victoria's declining health. What upset Victoria the most was a claim by the other side that both of her dead parents also experienced tooth loss.

"I couldn't understand why they had to pull in my dead parents...flat out lies. How they could sign legal documents stating these things when they were just not true." she said.

CNY Central contacted the Smith, Sovik, Kendrick & Sugnet lawfirm which represents Solvay's insurance carrier. The firm stated in an email: "please be advised, in compliance with Workers Compensation Law section 110-a, we do not comment on any claims."

The Flanders say they're appealing the latest decision to deny Victoria's $100 per week compensation, but they say that the process could take a full year before there's a decision.