Life Update #2 - Legislative action

Although update #1 reflects my most current "work" related volunteer activities, I have also been involved in a few legislative actions which will be touched on here and in another post to follow.  The information below is specifically in regard to Washington state's Crime Victim's Compensation program; the post to follow this will be in regards to US Senator Patty Murray's Trauma Bill.

As a crime victim myself, I qualified under Washington state law to receive some compensation for lost wages, to help cover out-of-pocket hospital expenses and to compensate me for the gap in my disability policy before coverage began. 

In order for the victim to receive funds after the person who caused the injuries has been convicted of a crime, the victim must apply and meet several criteria as well as stay in touch with the CVC (Crime Victim's Compensation) program on an ongoing and regular basis.  The CVC program is to be a payor of last resort, and from what I understand they primarily seek to cover unpaid medical expenses and generally soften the economic hardship that comes after an injury.

Given my immediate and long-term loss in wages, and to help cover unpaid medical costs, I did qualify to receive funds in 2005.  I was given $11,508 by the CVC program which was very helpful to our family.  Yet within a year I was forced to pay back 2/3 of that amount to the state after I received compensation from my insurance company for injuries sustained via my UIM (Under-Insured Motorist) coverage.  Regrettably, the way in which the state of Washington goes about obtaining this enforced payback is by placing a lien on the victim!  So without warning, or without even allowing a chance for appeal or time for the money to be paid, the state gives notification of demand for repayment through its action of placing a lien on the victim.  I am still baffled and frustrated with this injustice.

You can be certain I did appeal to the state's CVC program, and ultimately to the Governor of the state of Washington, Christine Gregoire.  Here then is an exact copy of that letter:


September 17, 2006
RE: Crime Victim Compensation Program Lien for claim ID ######

Dear Governor Gregoire,

The purpose of my letter is to re-appeal through your office the roughly $7,800 lien the Crime Victims Compensation Program has placed upon me requesting repayment of money they had provided to me over 12 months ago. My initial appeal to the program was rejected. Financial analysis revealed the funds were distributed correctly; and I must say all initial correspondence did not clearly communicate to me the possibility of repayment of those funds. Repayment of which I am now facing via a lien from the CVC program. I am the victim of a crime in which a 19 year old very intoxicated driver struck me while bicycling on Bainbridge Island August 23, 2004. He subsequently pled guilty and served 4 months in prison.

The Kitsap County Courthouse ordered the driver to pay $182,152.87 in restitution damages nearly one year ago (see attached letter). Most of that amount was to compensate my medical insurance company, though $8,629.71 was also to come to me personally. To date nothing has been paid to either party, nor is it ever likely to be paid given the dire financial situation of the entire family of the teen that nearly killed me.

Ironically, I was an Emergency Room physician, who in my nearly 17 years of practice had treated over 50,000 patients. Many of these were themselves victims or perpetrators of a crime; and many of these patients were themselves treated by me without compensation as I was then a part of America’s safety net for all who arrived through the Emergency Room doors to receive care regardless of their ability to pay. Unfortunately due to the severity of my injuries, which included a C5 spinal cord injury, and other significant nerve injuries to both arms, I am and will always remain an incomplete quadriplegic (having some movement in all extremities, but never a chance of regaining normal or near normal function). Although my recovery has been in many ways amazing, my injuries will prevent me from ever practicing in the Emergency Room again, that career ended.

I greatly appreciated receiving $11,508 from the CVC program over a year ago, but now I am having great financial concerns over the lien they have placed against me asking for repayment. I have not been able to work at all since this accident. It is quite difficult for me to walk, stand and use my arms; only through ongoing physical therapy several days per week am I able to move about. A recent fall due to lingering gait instability resulted in 2 hand fractures requiring surgery. Monthly I continue to have out of pocket medical expenses and my COBRA health insurance benefits will end by 2008. I will someday likely be able to work in a part-time position; however my disabilities will only allow me to work in a sedentary capacity.

I am now 48. I would have had at least 15-18 more years of practice ahead of me at the time I was injured. In addition to my salary, I have lost my additional retirement funding provided by Virginia Mason Medical Center. I am no longer on medical staff there (as they do not keep inactive physicians on staff); I have also lost the retirement benefits I was to receive in 2004/5 of $12,137.40. This Virginia Mason contribution would have been received annually with yearly increases, and this too is a big loss for me and my family.

The driver who struck me only had $50,000 in liability insurance. The lawsuit we filed against him is soon to be settled for that amount as he and his family have no assets whatsoever. The driver testified that he obtained the alcohol he drank prior to driving and striking me from unknown persons at a teenage party. There is no one besides he who is potentially liable. Yet, my ability to earn a living, provide for our family of five, support 3 children through college years, pay the mortgage, and perhaps find sources to fund retirement ALL have been severely compromised, and will for the rest of my life remain so. If I have to pay back the CVC Program’s lien out of the $50,000 settlement, it will cause further hardship to me and my family.

In summary, I have 3 points I would ask you to consider. First, give consideration to rewriting the initial CVC application and wording of subsequent letters from the CVC program to make it clear that repayment of funds distributed is intended. Second, if legally possible, repayment liens should be placed on the perpetrator or victimizer, and not on the victim. Third, carefully consider forgiving payback of dispersed funds when the victim will never be “made whole”, that is, faces permanent disability.

I could provide more detail, but I believe I have made my point. I have discussed these points with US Representative Jay Inslee (our neighbor) and am waiting to hear back from state Senator Phil Rockefeller. As a crime victim with a very uncertain financial future, I am asking you to remove the lien placed upon me. If a lien must be placed, it would only seem appropriate to have the state place that lien against the driver himself who has forever altered my life.

Thank you for your careful consideration of this matter.

Ernest A. Franz, MD


This appeal was also rather quickly denied, and our family did then pay to the state of Washington approximately $7,800 in order that the lien be removed. 

State Senator Phil Rockefeller did then in 2007 introduce SB5394 and championed the specific legislation that would change the potential repayment of funds given to a crime victim based on what he had witnessed in my case.  In this bill he proposed several of the ideas I had put forth to the Governor; primarily that if a victim can never be made whole and is left with permanent disability, that repayment of funds distributed should be forgiven.  In the early spring of 2007 I drove to Olympia and testified to a Senate subcommittee in favor of this legislation.  Not so much for my own behalf, but for others who may be required to pay back to the state funds they have received as a crime victim.  Yet due to ongoing CVC program state funding issues, complicated further at that time by embezzlement of CVC funds by someone apparently within the state offices, the proposed bill fell dead and to date has not been resurrected.