The intricate patterns of quilts made by Laveda Youngblood reflect the 80-year-old’s artistry. For more than 20 years, she has selected, as well as created her own designs. She’s matched fabrics, embroidered and appliqued detail. She’s stitched by hand and machine hundreds of quilts that have become gifts for her husband, Tom, their family and friends; have been displayed in numerous shows and earned her a reputation as a talented quilter.
Injuries sustained while helping prepare a quilt exhibit for the 2014 Kenai Peninsula State Fair, however, have impaired those abilities. More than a year later, Youngblood has yet to fully heal and may never regain the level of health she once enjoyed.
To make matters more troubling are Youngblood’s mounting medical bills and the fair’s lack of insurance coverage for the incident.
In a letter to Youngblood, Michael Henning, claims manager for Nautilus Insurance Group, said, “No coverage is provided to Kenai Peninsula Fair Association
for the injuries that you sustained.” Nautilus is the underwriter for Great Divide Insurance Company, the fair’s insurer. The letter is dated Aug. 14, 2015.
The sticking point is that members of the Kenai Peninsula Quilting Guild, including Youngblood, were considered fair “volunteers.”
“The quilting guild basically took over that department so we didn’t have anything to do with that department other than make the space available to them,” said Martie Krohn, president of the fair’s board of directors.
The need for fair vendors to have their own insurance is stated in the vendor application form. The vendor handbook also makes clear limits of the fair’s liability.
“In consideration of the privileges granted by this contract, the vendor agrees to protect and indemnify and hold harmless the Fair from any and all claims for damages, demands or suit, arising from injuries or damages sustained that may result either directly or indirectly from the activities and business of the vendor in connection with this contract,” the booklet says.
There is no such packet for volunteers.
“So it’s kind of a gray area,” said Krohn, adding that the quilting guild didn’t complete a vendor packet. “They just have taken over the entry and the showing of quilts at the fair.”
Youngblood was injured while she and members of the guild were hanging quilts on a display rack Aug. 13, 2014. Youngblood was standing beneath the rack, moving the rack’s arms into position while other quilt members, including Youngblood’s daughter-in-law, Karrie Youngblood, stood on ladders so they could attach quilts to the rack’s arms. Beneath the rack, other guild members selected the quilts to be displayed.
“We were about a quarter of the way hanging quilts when the rack made a noise and jerked down a bit,” Karrie Youngblood wrote in her account of the incident made for the insurance investigator.
Noticing a wall panel to which the rack was attached had separated from the wall, guild members decided to stop for a lunch break while fair personnel were notified of the situation. No sooner was the decision made than the rack fell to the floor, parts of it striking several of the women.
Youngblood was struck on the back of the head. She began complaining of a severe headache, blurred vision and confusion. Ninilchik Emergency Services responded and transported Youngblood from the fairgrounds to South Peninsula Hospital, where she was hospitalized.
“..(S)ince that time, she has suffered with severe post concussion syndrome, which has included chronic headaches, dizziness, difficulty with her walking, memory issues. She has had to have multiple types of treatment including physical and occupational therapy, x-rays, MRIs and specialist evaluation,” Dr. Guilia M. Tortora, who practices at Homer Medical Center, wrote in a letter for Youngblood. “As a result of this injury, she has had marked physical disability. She will continue to need ongoing therapy for this injury and may never return to her pre-injury status. The stress of her injuries has been severe, and her resulting pain has also been a marked problem.”
Hospital records provided by the Youngbloods note numerous contacts with the fair, Great Divide Insurance Company, and the Youngbloods in the past year. The day following the incident, Lara McGinnis, the fair’s executive director, called the hospital regarding insurance information for billing and the hospital followed up by contacting the fair’s insurance company.
The hospital records show that on Oct. 14, 2014, the hospital was told by an insurance representative “they do have $5,000 that may be sent to us shortly to cover some of this.” However, on Jan. 29, 2015, the hospital received a call from the insurance adjustor that coverage of the incident was declined.
When contacted by this writer for clarification about what the fair’s insurance does and doesn’t cover, Kim Levensky, vice president of claims for Nautilus, declined to comment, “since this involves a liability claim.”
Youngblood filed a complaint with the Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development, charging that Nautilus Insurance Group had not taken responsibility nor accepted liability for her injuries. Nautilus’ response to the state again pointed to Youngblood being considered a volunteer, as well as a fair participant and made it clear the fair’s insurance does not cover injuries to employees, leased workers, temporary workers, volunteer workers, statutory employees, casual workers, seasonal workers, contractors, subcontractors or independent contractors.
“Based upon the documentation you provided and the company’s response, we are unable to identify any violation of the state’s insurance laws,” Kathy L. Leoning, consumer service supervisor for the state, wrote to Youngblood on Aug. 13, 2015. Leoning suggested Youngblood “may want to consult a lawyer to advise you whether you have any other recourse to resolve your dispute.”
The Youngbloods attempted to contact several local attorneys. A retainer for the only responding attorney, as well as the percent to be paid the attorney of any full settlement, caused the Youngbloods to question if enough would remain to pay medical bills that to date total more than $65,000.
Charles Wharton, an attorney in Colorado, where the Youngbloods lived before moving to Homer, has taken on the case. In April 2015, he initiated written contact with the fair’s board of directors, but has yet to receive a reply.
“They won’t even come forward with the name of the contractor that negligently hung that wall. … They used that exact same display for years before that and never had a problem. So, what happened this time?” said Wharton of how the display rack was installed.
According to Krohn, the display rack was the guild’s property. Guild members said it belonged to the fair. Neither the guild nor the fair know who installed it or when it was installed.
“I don’t know whether it was our maintenance or the quilting guild,” said Krohn.
Both Krohn and McGinnis said communication regarding Youngblood’s injuries was impacted by a vehicle accident that severely injured McGinnis. It occurred March 16, seven months after the quilt rack collapsed. In its aftermath, board members helped with McGinnis’ workload.
“Everybody’s overextended, so to speak, on all the things we’re doing and doing things that are out of the realm of our normal responsibilities,” said Krohn.
According to McGinnis, a conversation she had with one of Youngblood’s family members indicated Youngblood “was recovering nicely and doing well. And then I get home from the hospital and am heading right into the fair year and there’s a letter from an attorney, so I don’t know. … I was out of the loop for all of this.”
This year, after 15 years of participating, the quilting guild decided not to participate in the fair by “an overwhelming vote” of its members.
“This last August one of our members was seriously injured due to the Kenai Peninsula State Fair’s failure to correctly install supports from which the quilts are hung. The Kenai Peninsula State Fair’s insurance company has so far refused to cover medical expenses for the injured party,” Jan Wallace, guild president, wrote in an April 13, 2015, letter to McGinnis.
Without the Kenai Peninsula Quilting Guild’s participation, this year’s quilt exhibit at the fair was smaller than in past years.
“There were two full-sized quilts and about six little baby quilts and two little lap-sized quilts. It was really sad. Really, really sad,” said Rene Bond who judged the exhibit. “What was there was beautiful, but it was nothing.”
Guild member Alice Krivitsky expressed concern that lack of quilts in this year’s fair would reflect negatively on the guild.
“The community needs to know why there wasn’t a quilt show and why they do not feel responsible for the accident,” she said. “The quilters here have projects we do for fire victims. We’re using scraps to make beds for the dog shelter. We do a lot of good things. And then to have this come out in a negative way that we decided not to do it anymore without an explanation affects everybody.”
Guild members launched a freewill offering for the Youngbloods, who are covered by Medicare but have no other insurance.
“We collected several thousand dollars for Laveda, but it’s a drop in the bucket compared to what their expenses are,” said Krivitsky.
Karrie Youngblood is currently looking for a fundraising raffle sponsor, with one of her quilts as the prize. The quilt features a colorful fireweed design combining two patterns, measures 60 inches square and was the blue-ribbon winner in the Kachemak Bay Mother’s Day Quilt Show.
When asked if the insurance company’s response meant the matter was resolved, Krohn said, “I didn’t say that. I said it’s a very regrettable accident. Other than that I am not knowledgeable about what’s happening with it at this point in time.”
Wharton is hoping a final resolution will come outside the courtroom.
“Let’s resolve this situation peacefully the way adults do,” he said. “I think a profound apology would go a long way.”
In the past year, Tom Youngblood has “more or less devoted all my time to taking Laveda to doctors and taking care of her work here in the house.”
Youngblood said her injuries have forced her to give up volunteering at South Peninsula Hospital’s gift shop. It is only within the last month that she has been able to begin attending church and Sunday school, as well as a weekly sewing group. She recently began work on a quilt. She has yet to be contacted directly by anyone from the Kenai Peninsula State Fair. When and if that contact comes, Youngblood hopes it goes beyond a phone call.
“The fair needs to stand up and tell people what they didn’t take care of and not try to sweep it under the carpet,” she said.