In the first part of this major report on one of the most serious issues facing horse racing in America today, Daniel Ross introduced Shelly Stone, a former exercise rider who, nearly seven years ago, was left wheelchair-bound with a broken neck after a riding accident during morning training at Laurel Park. Shelly’s story highlights many significant problems with the workers’ compensation system as it pertains to the racing industry nationally.
Here in part two, Ross explores these problems, breaking down some of the complications each state faces as they grapple with an issue that some trainers say is driving them out of business.
And he delves deeper into Shelly’s long battle with a system that was supposed to help her.
When Shelly Stone broke her neck on the morning of February 18, 2011, she was immediately rushed to the nearby Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, then later moved to the National Rehabilitation Hospital across town to begin the healing process.
But when she left the rehab facility and moved home, her relationship with Tower Insurance Co. of New York, the workers’ compensation carrier responsible for her case, quickly soured.
At one point within months of leaving the rehab facility, Tower Insurance stopped paying her medical expenses altogether, said Shelly’s brother, Andy Stone, a sports coach at a private school in Virginia. And the company refused to pay for a number of treatment requests necessary for Shelly’s recovery, including physical and occupational therapy and an electrical hospital bed for her home.
“They refused to pay for anything,” said Andy, who added that, during the payment freeze, Shelly was taken to Pennsylvania, where her mother and sister could care for her. “It was a huge burden both financially and physically. Shelly really does need 24-hour care because she can’t do a lot of the things herself.”
The first emergency hearing scheduled by Shelly’s lawyer was held in July, 2011. The commission ruled in Shelly’s favor, ordering Tower Insurance to pay all outstanding medical expenses, and granting her all but one of her treatment requests, state records show. “Little did we know this was the start of a whole long nightmare,” said Andy.
A glimpse into Shelly’s painful daily routine
In the years since, Shelly’s lawyers have had to schedule multiple emergency hearings in response to Tower Insurance’s objection to, and non-payment of, Shelly’s medical services, treatments and expenses. At each hearing, the commission came down on Shelly’s side. Other emergency hearings were scheduled, only to be cancelled when Tower Insurance agreed to comply beforehand.
State records show that in December, 2012, for example, a hearing was held because Tower Insurance had denied Shelly a number of medical needs, such as leg and arm braces, botox injections to tackle her crippling muscle spasticity, and spinal therapy. The commission granted Shelly all these requests.
By March, 2014, the commission found that Tower Insurance owed Shelly’s father, Stephen, an exercise physiologist, $30,005 in unpaid expenses for the therapy he administered his daughter. Then, in 2016, Tower Insurance decided the physical and aqua therapies — treatments approved by multiple doctors — were excessive.
In a July hearing of that year — which Shelly attended, necessitating a grueling trip from Arizona (she lives in Tucson) to Maryland — Tower Insurance submitted a report by a doctor who had never seen, spoken to or examined Shelly in person, claiming that she should “transition to a home exercise program”.