On September 13, 1983, while living in southern California, welder Reggie Kelly hopped on his motorcycle to go cash his paycheck over a lunch break. Stopped at an intersection, he waited for a green light and then headed forward, but an oncoming car took a left turn across the intersection and hit Reggie directly. His leg was pinched between the car’s bumper and his Harley’s engine casing, mangling the limb beyond repair. The hit sent Reggie flying, and he hit a light pole and fell to the curb, remaining conscious all the while. “There is no describing the pain,” Reggie says.
He remembers the ambulance ride to the Fountain Valley, Calif. trauma center, and being laid on a gurney with doctors and nurses looking down on him. They had to catheterize him, and he recalls seeing blood in the tube right before passing out.
The doctors had to amputate Reggie’s left leg below the knee. His left arm was crushed, especially the elbow joint. His spleen was ruptured and had to be removed. All of his ribs were broken. His pelvis had been so thoroughly fractured, the doctors said it had been “eggshelled.” Reggie needed 28 units of blood while in intensive care, and back then, blood was not routinely tested. As a result, Reggie contracted hepatitis C through one of his many transfusions.
Reggie’s elbow injury left him with major nerve damage and muscle atrophy in his arm. (The elbow eventually calcified, and permanently stuck in a 90 degree position.) Meanwhile, he was fitted with a prosthetic leg and learned how to walk on it. He was on a cocktail of meds aimed at managing his pain without addicting him to the painkillers. “I was in such a state,” Reggie recalls.
Shortly before Thanksgiving, 1983, Reggie returned home to Alaska, just before his 28th birthday. “I came as close as I could to dying without it actually happening to me. I was very fortunate,” he says.
Reggie has had surgeries to his back and neck since then. “I hurt every day when I get up,” he says. “To go through those kinds of injuries, they don’t ever really heal.” His accident happened right before his 28th birthday. He is 56 years old now. He has not worked since the accident. As a self-described “metal-banger,” he simply cannot stand up and work like he used to. His bones will not let him.
After the accident, Reggie sued the woman that hit him, and was offered a lump sum or an annuity. His lawyers suggested Reggie take the annuity because he would get more out of it as time went by. Reggie talked it over with his parents, who agreed with the lawyers.
“It just seemed to be a good way to go,” Reggie says of his structured settlement annuity. “I’m sure that’s why most people who get these things do it. It’s proven that a lot of people get a chunk of money and don’t know what to do with it, and the next thing you know, it’s gone.”