George Visger is a former pro football player whose legacy of nine brain surgeries and an adulthood of memory deficit are the stuff of science fiction. He is the author of a 2012 ebook short for Concussion Inc., OUT OF MY HEAD: My Life In and Out of Football (available on Amazon Kindle at http://amzn.to/znZuiL, or as a PDF file by remitting $2.99, via PayPal, to firstname.lastname@example.org). Irvin Muchnick’s forthcoming book from ECW Press, CONCUSSION INC: The End of Football As We Know It, can be pre-ordered at http://amzn.to/1yQNPXY.
by Irvin Muchnick
A couple of weeks ago I had my holiday dinner in Sacramento with George Visger. These days, unlike last time, George is not living on the floor of the Hyperbaric Oxygen Clinic, where he still has regular therapy sessions. Instead, he’s sacking out in the attic of the nearby house of the owner of the clinic, Mike Greenhaulgh. That is, when George is up there visiting his kids. Otherwise, he’s living in Southern California and getting treatment at the B.R.A.I.N. rehabilitation and injury clinic in Cypress.
While catching up with George, I learned of the latest chapter in his personal and legal odyssey. He says the underwriter of his three-decade-long workman’s compensation claim, Travelers Insurance, stopped paying its bills in 2012 after negotiations broke down for a comprehensive settlement of medical claims.
In 1980 Visger was earning a non-guaranteed $35,000 a year as a San Francisco 49ers defensive lineman when he got concussed in the first quarter of a game against the Dallas Cowboys. Later, the team orthopedic surgeon Dr. Fred Behling – known by players as “’Dr. Doom” and later successfully sued for malpractice by three of Visger’s teammates on San Francisco’s 1981-82 Super Bowl champions – would laughingly tell George he’d been given more than 20 smelling salts to keep him on the field during the Cowboys game, which he didn’t remember.
Early the next year, Visger developed hydrocephalus (water on the brain) and underwent emergency surgery. The doctors drilled a hole in his skull, inserted a tube into the middle of his brain, plumbed it to a pressure valve and pump installed in the back of his head, and drained the excess spinal fluid down into his abdomen.
Early the following offseason, this first shunt installation failed. George lapsed into a near-fatal coma.
Two years later, with bills piling up and the 49ers refusing to honor them, Visger won a state worker’s comp claim against the team. Travelers Insurance negotiated coverage of medical care for both brain and knee injuries.
Flash forward to 2012. Travelers representatives called a meeting with Visger and his wife Kristi to discuss a comprehensive settlement of the case. This is a convention of worker’s comp: the claimant has an option to accept an agreed-upon lump sum in lieu of ongoing coverage.
According to George, Travelers offered $75,000 in cash, plus a contribution of $30,398 as seed money for an account dedicated to payment of medical bills. In addition, the carrier would deposit an annual $7,619 annuity into the medical account for up to 28 years, and would guarantee for 15 years, whether or not Visger was still alive, further monthly payments of $1,178.
“The offer was tempting, because I had lost my business and we were homeless. I still am, and Kristi and the kids would be in that situation for more than two years,” George told me. “But the offer didn’t cut it. A brain surgery alone costs around a quarter of a million dollars. The initial $30,000 would cover one brain surgery and one day in intensive care.”
Visger counter-offered $1 million in a non-wasting endowment account (from which his family could draw ongoing interest) and a $1 million life insurance policy. “I’ll be worth more to my family dead than alive,” he said..
Travelers said no.
Since that meeting, George says, Travelers has not paid a single bill. For example, the Sacramento Hyperbaric Oxygen Clinic alone is owed more than $33,000. He has paid more than $2,500 out of pocket.
“If you or I just ‘decided’ not to pay our bills, we’d be in jail,” said Visger, who is now back in court with Travelers.
(We left requests for comment with two members of the Travelers media relations department.)