Widow's bill settled, but bad taste remains
If you've been following the story, you'll remember that Barker's husband died in July of 2000 after accidentally falling at Lakeland Health Care Center.
Brent Barker tripped over another patient in a hallway, hit a box fan and other things during the fall and died from the injuries, according to a friend who says he witnessed the incident.
At the time, Marion Barker was encouraged to sue, but declined. Then, in July of this year-some six years after Brent Barker died-Marion Barker received a $5,000 bill for his last month of care.
As Mike Heine reports in a story this week ('It was ruining her life'), Barker has agreed to pay $2,000 to settle the bill and move on with her life.
But Barker, along with her daughter, Laurie Engl, weren't the only ones upset by how the whole situation played out.
Several readers called when the story first broke to express their astonishment with the situation, and I agree with them.
Honestly, it's not too hard to take a stand against how this case was handled. It's like taking a stand against drunken driving.
What surprised me was that the Lakeland Board of Trustees, who would have the authority to toss out the bill, didn't step in on this one.
Were they worried about setting a precedent?
I'm not convinced that would be much of a problem. In fact, the county could set a policy to handle just such a case. If someone accidentally falls and dies at the Lakeland Health Care Facility and the spouse declines to sue, and the county overlooks sending a bill for six years, the payment is forgiven.
The reason for the six-year delay? The bill stood untouched for years because the corporation council's office, which handles overdue bills, was overworked and understaffed, they told Heine.
To be fair, county departments are stretched ever thinner as taxpayers demand increasing fiscal restraint. But at some point you have to throw in the towel and move on. This should have been one of those cases.
Lost in the legal wrangling over the bill is Marion Barker's decision not to sue at the time of her husband's death.
She apparently believes that some things are simply just accidents.
People who think like her are rare indeed.
In our lawsuit-happy society, it seems we need to place blame somewhere. After that, we make them pay. The idea that some things are just terrible accidents seems to be a concept that has long been forgotten.
In my book, that alone is reason enough to tear up the bill.
~Dan Plutchak, editor, The Week