After a horrific accident in England, we tried to find out what happens in one of the most traumatic mishaps imaginable.
On Monday, a man in Gloucester, England, reportedly severed his penis in a freak accident involving a saw.
He was rushed to the hospital and treated for a "traumatic injury to the leg area." While catastrophic accidents like that don't happen often, they have happened in workplaces in the United States, and workplace compensation laws aren't always clear on what happens to the victim.
We reached out to a workers' compensation attorney here in New York to find out what happens to the victim of one of the most horrifying, traumatic experiences a person could suffer. The prognosis? There's good news and bad news.
"Your penis, per se, has no value," says Robert Koenigsberg, a New York-based workers' compensation attorney. "In New York, unfortunately, genitals and organs are generally worthless."
Koenigsberg was quick to point out that workers' comp laws vary widely on a state-by-state basis. In most states, there are clear averages for how much workers are paid for the loss of a limb, like an arm or a leg. In 2015, ProPublica investigated workers' comp laws and specific cases in every one of the 50 states, and came up with data for how much a typical accident, like the loss of an arm or a leg, is worth.
The investigation turned up data for testicles as well—the national average is $27,678 for losing one on the job—but has no data for the penis itself. Koenigsberg explained that usually, workers' comp is only calculated insofar as the injury affects your ability to work.
If you lost your penis in a tragic workplace accident, he says, you'd be entitled to medical care for the injury and lost pay for missing work during your recovery. Where additional benefits kick in, and where things get tricky, Koenigsberg says, is getting more financial support to cover the emotional damage of such a wound. Koenigsberg says the only way the penis itself's only value toward a workers' ability to perform their job is psychiatric. In a case like that, Koenigsberg says he wouldn't see any judge denying that the loss of a penis is a significant emotional trauma in a workers' comp suit—which means that all sorts of other treatments are on the table.
The good thing about workers' compensation, Koenigsberg says, is that "it's the only insurance that has no copay and no limit." He says that expensive prosthetics or penile implants would most likely be easy to justify under workers' compensation. So while there may be an endless litany of terrible things that could happen to your penis, if they happen on the job, there's a good chance you'll get the best care money can buy.
Unfortunately, even a wildly expensive prosthetic won't be the same as the real thing, and it certainly won't erase the trauma of losing something so important to many men's identities.
"The injury is sad," Koenigsberg says.
He told a similar story, of a nurse on a psychiatric ward who was kicked by a patient, which ruptured her Fallopian tube and affected her ability to have children. While her medical bills were covered through workers' comp, no amount of money can cover what she lost in that incident.
Even more worryingly, the same ProPublica investigation found that state governments have made severe cuts to workers' comp benefits in the past decade. The standard agreement behind workplace compensation is that if a worker is injured on the job, they waive their right to sue, under the expectation that their employer pays their medical bills and wages while they recover. But ProPublica reports that as state legislatures have dismantled those protections, that agreement has become flawed.
In some states, particularly ones with a high proportion of high-risk industries, workers' comp payouts are significantly lower than others. A worker in Georgia who lost his or her arm, ProPublica found, could bring in over $750,000 in benefits over his lifetime, compared to just $45,000 in Alabama.
And that's for tragedies, like losing a limb, that happen all the time in hazardous jobs. Losing your penis is far more rare—but it does happen. And if it does, you just have to hope that you live in a state that pays out.