(KMSP) - For an Allina Health paramedic, patient and driver who were seriously injured in an ambulance crash three years ago, an extended legal battle over insurance coverage is adding financial strife to an already traumatizing series of events.
As Laura Worely was placed on the stretcher at her home that night, she never gave any consideration to how much crash insurance Allina carried on the ambulance.
It's not something people think about in an emergency, if ever.
"It really puts into perspective how fast your life can change," she said. "If it happened to me, it can happen to anybody."
Visibility was poor that night as snow covered the highway lines, so the ambulance driver used the rumble strips to get a feel for his location on the road. Then, in the blink of an eye, everything changed.
Suddenly, there was a flash of headlights and then a tremendous impact: Another driver hit the Allina rig head on.
"Before all of this I thought Allina was the greatest organization," said Brian Nagel, the paramedic treating Worely. "I was proud to be a medic for them."
He fractured his skull, suffered a traumatic brain injury and vision loss, shattered bones in his face and was in a coma for a week after the crash.
Nearly four years later, he's still unable to work.
Tim Daly, who was driving the ambulance, broke a leg and both feet, blew out a knee and had a severe concussion.
"I'd hoped they'd stand behind us and support us through this," Daly said. "I guess we'll wait and see."
Worley ended up with a lacerated liver and serious complications. She didn’t go back to work for about a year and has another surgery coming up soon.
The other driver, meanwhile, was underinsured.
In the end, the money available covered only a fraction of the medical bills for everyone who was hurt.
"We live paycheck to paycheck,” she said. "Now I have [to pay] $10,000 out of pocket, and the first $10,000 for the surgery."
HOW MUCH INSURANCE DID ALLINA HAVE?
It's because of situations like this that Minnesota law requires all drivers carry protection for uninsured or underinsured motorists.
"If they don't have insurance or enough insurance then your own policy will pay you for those extra bills," said Mark Kulda from the Minnesota Insurance Federation.
The basic coverage required by law is $50,000 for any one accident, while the most an injured person can collect is $25,000--more than Worely racks up in a single hospital stay.
In the case of the Allina crash, three of the injured have received bills amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
How much coverage did Allina have on its rig for protection against that other driver?
That question is now up to the courts to decide.
"It's so violating, I just can't believe it," said Nagel. "I am so disappointed."
According to Nagel and the others who were hurt, Allina originally told them it was self-insured and had $2 million in coverage for underinsured motorists.
Allina said that's not the case. It filed a lawsuit asking a judge to rule that its responsibility is to pay the state-required minimum of $50,000.
The injured parties responded to the suit by saying the available coverage should be $2 million based on Allina's prior declarations.
'That floored me," said Tim Daly, who was driving the ambulance.
Allina declined Fox 9’s request for an interview, instead providing a statement:
"From day one, we have provided worker's compensation benefits, resources and services to support Mr. Nagel and Mr. Daly," the statement reads. "That support continues today."
Workers compensation, meanwhile, doesn’t pay Nagel or Daly for their pain and suffering.
"Maybe they're more interested in saving money than in protecting people who ride in their ambulance," said the plaintiff’s attorney Mike Fargione.
In its statement to the Fox 9 Investigators, Allina said it “maintains a comprehensive insurance program, which includes all legally required insurance coverages for operation of its ambulances."
They added that the company has “higher insurance limits for liability coverage, but those higher limits do not apply in this situation where another driver is responsible for the accident.”
Allina did not disclose any of its coverage limits to Fox 9.
For the record, Worley has a $100,000 uninsured motorist policy on her own car, double the amount Allina said it owes in this case.
"How could it be that little when you're that large of a company," Worley said, pointing out that Allina answers 20 percent of all 911 calls for ambulance service in the state.
In Minnesota between 2011 and 2016, there were 230 crashes involving various ambulance services. 154 were in the metro, injuring 34 people.
Meanwhile, the insurance industry estimates there are at least 500,000 drivers in Minnesota who have no insurance.
"It's a pretty significant problem," said Kulda.
The Fox 9 Investigators surveyed ambulance services around Minnesota for their coverage limits.
Hennepin County Medical Center, like Allina, is self-insured and has a $50,000 cap for uninsured motorists.
Every city-run ambulance service in the state carries $200,000 in coverage, while North Memorial, Sanford Health and Lakes Region EMS told Fox 9 their limit is $1 million.
Mayo Clinic and others declined to provide any numbers.
"I just hope Allina realizes what they're doing is not alright, not okay," Nagel said, adding that workers' comp doesn't come close to covering the hell he's been through.
Meanwhile, Daly worries about his future.
"Both of my legs still bother me quite a bit," he said. "And I'm not done with surgeries yet."
Worely also wonders how she'll pay to fix the problem with her abdomen that keeps her from picking up any of her kids or even a bag of groceries.
"It's been very hard for everybody," Worley said.
It doesn’t appear the insurance dispute will be resolved anytime soon, with a trial date set for August 2018--four and a half years after the accident.