Former Florida Guard Accused of Workers’ Comp Fraud Dies Before Trial
Less than eight weeks before a former Florida prison guard was scheduled to go to trial on charges of fraudulently collecting nearly $3 million in workers’ compensation, he died in a Tampa hospital. Doctors listed his cause of death as lung failure.
David Brownell, 48, left behind a wife who was furious with the state for what she contended was a deliberate effort to besmirch her husband’s name and discredit the medical condition that eventually killed him.
Brownell was arrested in November 2012 on a felony insurance fraud charge. He had filed a workers’ compensation claim in 1995 alleging that his exposure to rats and rat feces at the Glades Correctional Institution (GCI) caused him respiratory problems and a dependency on oxygen. Florida’s Division of Risk Management paid him more than $2.7 million over the next 17 years, including around $563,000 in lost income.
Brownell made statements under oath about his disabilities. However, the Florida Department of Financial Services’ Division of Insurance Fraud produced video footage taken over several years that indicated Brownell’s condition appeared to be less severe than he had claimed. In the videos he was seen playing guitar in a band, attending a concert, driving and smoking cigarettes.
While Brownell could occasionally drive, play his guitar and attend concerts, the claim that he smoked cigarettes was a lie, said his widow, Candace Brownell, 55. “He never smoked a day in his life,” she stated.
None of the videos showed Brownell wearing an oxygen mask, but Candace said her husband did not need to be on oxygen constantly. In fact, doctors had advised him to not use his oxygen tank all the time.
“They edited the [surveillance] tapes and only showed ones of him without oxygen,” Candace complained. “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?”
Brownell made more than a dozen hospital visits over the past four years, Candace said. Doctors had diagnosed her husband with a rare form of pneumonia and also found he suffered from idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, or scarring of the lungs. Brownell was placed on a lung transplant list ten days before he died on October 16, 2013.
“We were saddened to hear of Mr. Brownell’s passing and our sympathies are with his family,” the Division of Insurance Fraud said in a written statement. “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.”
Candace Brownell was also angry that the state made it appear her husband had profited from his workers’ compensation payments, most of which she said went to medical providers.
Brownell faced up to 30 years in prison and had been worried about his trial, which was scheduled for early December 2013.
“He [had] a nerve stimulator in his back, a port installed in his chest, a feeding tube hanging out of his stomach,” Candace stated. “How would you be able to convince a jury he was faking it?”
Brownell’s workers’ comp claim was similar to a lawsuit filed by then-GCI prisoner and PLN contributing writer David Reutter in 1994. Reutter alleged that GCI was infested with rats, and rat feces had possibly subjected him to Hantavirus, a respiratory disease. A state court judge denied his motion for a preliminary injunction despite a guard’s testimony that he had been bitten by a rat when reaching for his lunch in a cabinet in the guards’ station, resulting in the guard receiving workers’ compensation for several weeks.
Sources: www.claimsjournal.com, Sun-Sentinel, www.safetynewsalert.com, www.tampabay.com
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