David Brownell was charged with workers’ comp fraud: more than $2.7 million since 1995. Authorities say he misrepresented his illness, lung disease, to his doctor. He was set to go on trial before he died … of lung disease.
We told you about this case late last year when Brownell was arrested and charged with one felony count of workers’ comp fraud, punishable by up to 30 years in prison.
Brownell was an officer at Glades Correctional Institution in Florida. In 1995, he claimed working at the prison exposed him to rats and their feces and resulted in respiratory problems that required him to be on oxygen 24 hours a day.
But then the Florida Division of Insurance Fraud produced video showing Brownell was at times not on oxygen. Authorities claim he was able to play guitar in a band, attend a concert, drive and smoke cigarettes.
Brownell had initially been diagnosed with a rare type of pneumonia.
However, this summer, doctors said he had idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis — scarring of the lungs. He spent three months in the hospital before he died in October. Doctors had put him on a lung transplant list just ten days before he died. He was 48.
His wife, Candace Brownell, says this wasn’t the only time in their four years of marriage that he was hospitalized. She puts that number at over a dozen.
She says the claim about cigarette smoking was a lie and her husband was occasionally able to take part in social activities without his oxygen. In fact, she says, doctors told him not to use his oxygen 100% of the time.
“We didn’t realize they just expected you to lay in bed and die,” Candace Brownell told TampaBay.com.
Brownell’s lawyer put it this way: Brownell was a “very sick man who was trying to have a normal life.”
In a statement, the Division of Insurance Fraud said the issue wasn’t David Brownell’s diagnosis but the fact he told his doctor he needed oxygen 24/7: “The investigation was never about whether he was ill or not, but rather the contrast between how he was representing his physical limitations to doctors and what he was actually capable of doing.”
His wife said any discrepancies were because of confusion and the effects of his medication.
Candace Brownell says investigators also edited the videotape, showing only the times when he wasn’t using oxygen. “Where’s all the videotape of him with oxygen or throwing up in the front yard because he couldn’t quite make it home — or all the trips to the hospital,” she said.
She also resents how the state inferred her husband got rich off of workers’ comp. Over a 17-year period, he received $563,000 for lost income. That comes to just over $33,000 a year. Much of the $2.7 million was for medical coverage.
Candace Brownell says if the state decides to come after her husband’s assets, they won’t find much. His car is 10 years old, hers is 11. They lived in her small house. He lost his house to foreclosure.
David Brownell had a nerve stimulator in his back, a port installed in his chest and a feeding tube attached to his stomach, according to his wife.
It’s not clear from media coverage of his case exactly what the state thought Brownell should have done differently, other than be more specific about how often he used oxygen. Did they think he should work? Some people on oxygen can work in sedentary jobs, but it seems unlikely that he would have been able to continue to be a prison guard in that condition.
Were there medical expenses the state disputed? Given his frequent hospitalizations in the last four year of his life and his diagnosis, that seems questionable.
There’s no doubt that workers’ comp fraud is out there — anyone who reads this website knows that. It’s necessary for authorities to pursue potential fraud cases because they increase the costs for employers.
Candace Brownell presents an interesting question: Does not being able to work mean the person receiving workers’ comp benefits has to restrict their life to bed rest? Can they go out to dinner at a restaurant every once in a while, see a concert, etc.?
It may have been the length of time David Brownell received benefits and their total cost that attracted investigators to his case. While the investigators were quick to present their evidence of alleged fraud in the form of edited video of Brownell’s activities, we probably won’t get disclosure on exactly how they chose to pursue his case.
What do you think about this case? Let us know in the comments below.