City fights disability award to supervisor John A. Pica Sr. was injured on the job

December 04, 1996|By Walter F. Roche Jr. | Walter F. Roche Jr.,SUN STAFF

When John A. Pica Sr., a former Baltimore streets maintenance supervisor, first learned of an approaching snowstorm nearly four years ago, he sprang into action.

But in his rush to get ready, Pica, a former councilman, got his legs tangled and tumbled between two desks in his city office.

His fall may cost Baltimore taxpayers more than $170,000.

The payment is due to a disability award made in May by a state Workers' Compensation Commission official. City attorneys filed notice of appeal of that decision in Baltimore Circuit Court shortly afterward.

Pica, 72, says he suffered a series of injuries ranging from pinched nerves to carpal tunnel syndrome and aching knees, all the result of the 1993 fall.

According to city officials, who continue to dispute the extent of Pica's injuries, the filing of an appeal does not delay the requirement for the city to pay Pica. If the city wins the appeal, however, Pica would be required to return the money.

Under the award, Pica, the father of state Sen. John A. Pica Jr., was awarded $171,936.08 in back pay plus $7,500 in legal fees and $72.80 in unpaid health bills.

Joyce Brown of the Maryland Workers' Compensation Commission said an award of the size won by Pica is relatively rare.

"To get an award of that size you have to be really injured," she said.

Representing Pica is the law firm of Peter G. Angelos, records show. Richard E. Waldt, the attorney handling the case, declined to comment.

Stanley C. Rogosin of the city Law Department also declined to )) comment, stating that it is against city policy to discuss pending litigation.

A hearing on the city appeal had been scheduled for September, but was postponed by agreement of both parties. A new hearing date has been set for April 1.

Pica Sr. testified at a March 29 Workers' Compensation Commission hearing before Commissioner Lauren A. Sfekas that was in perfect health before the Jan. 8, 1993, fall. Doctors for rTC the city, however, contended that while Pica sustained partial disability from the fall, his overall condition also was attributable to "long-standing pre-existing conditions."

"I was never injured. I was in super condition. No, I never had a problem in my life. The only problem I had was when I got wounded in the war," Pica, a decorated World War II veteran, testified.

He said that the day he fell, he had just learned from the National Weather Service that a storm was on the way.

As an assistant chief of highway maintenance, he was in charge of snow-fighting operations in two city districts. His salary was $980.67 a week.

Pica said after learning of the storm, he had gone to check with two co-workers about the location of city snow removal equipment when his feet became stuck under two desks.

"While I was getting the information my feet got caught. I fell backward with both my wrists and my arms behind me. As I fell I also hit this table, struck my head on this table, this solid wood table," Pica said.

He said that when several co-workers came to free him, "I was either unconscious or I was dazed."

According to his testimony and reports from his doctors, Pica suffered three pinched nerves and bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome as a result of the fall. He said he also suffers from knee pain, headaches and numbness in his fingers, for the same reason.

Pica told the state official that he fell once after the accident while trying to place an angel on top of the family Christmas tree. He said he fell and broke his collarbone after suffering a carpal tunnel attack.

Under questioning by attorneys, Pica said that he had never missed a day's work before the accident. In addition to working in the city Highway Department, the elder Pica served on the City Council from 1955 to 1967.

In its defense, the city presented letters from physicians who examined Pica, including Dr. Stephen R. Matz, who found that while Pica was injured in the fall, other reasons for his aches and pains ranged from his age to his wartime injuries.

"It is my opinion," Matz wrote, "that any greater amounts of

permanent partial physical impairment are due to long-standing pre-existing conditions."

Pica, records show, also filed for retirement while his case was pending, but he contended he would not have done so had it not been for the injury. Under the state Workers' Compensation Commission decision, the city was ordered to pay Pica for 24 weeks at full pay and 400 weeks at a percentage of his weekly salary based on the level of his disability.

Pub Date: 12/04/96

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