Justice at last for a boy who caught fire in the 1949 explosion

It has been a pivotal year for Dennis Madigan, after what has seemed like an endless wait for justice.

His ordeal began with a horrific accident in 1949: Madigan was just a boy working at a Barrie gas station when he lit a cigarette and caught fire.

Fifteen years old at the time, Madigan spent three months in the hospital. His burns all over his body meant he couldn’t sweat, causing an odor that made him a social outcast at school. He dropped out in grade 9, gave up his dream of working in the railroad, and got a job with a meat packer.

But in 2021, its story takes an extraordinary turn, because reported by the Star in July. After seven decades of legal wrangling, archival sleuths and, most importantly, waiting, Madigan won a worker’s compensation claim, after a court ruled he should have been entitled to benefits all those years ago.

This was a foundational decision, which affirmed the importance of giving workers the benefit of the doubt in complex compensation cases where there is about as much evidence for and against an injury claim.

At the time, Madigan still wasn’t sure exactly what the victory meant. The court ordered the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board to decide on the “nature and duration” of the compensation he would receive, a process that required going back in time. to assess past medical records and determine the extent of Madigan’s disability.

The prospect of more waiting, in a system that had often felt against it, was a stressor for Madigan. But shortly before Christmas, he got wind of his agreement and is delighted.

“It was very good,” he told the Vancouver Star. “More than I expected.”

With characteristic modesty, he prefers to play ‘close to his chest’ on the exact dollar amount – but suffice it to say that this represents decades of living with a permanent physical handicap and includes a pension that will see him through his golden years. .

What he doesn’t capture is the emotional trauma he suffered as a result of his injuries, the sense of social isolation. His scars were a problem for his first wife, he said; she left him, taking their two children with her.

But Madigan remarried a woman with whom he says he “had a good life”. He gave him half of his six-figure settlement money.

“My wife helps me a lot,” he says.

In fact, Madigan, now in his late 1980s, says he feels he has received “more help than he deserves.” His case was championed on council by his brother Frank, Ontario NDP politician Elie Martel and later former WSIB president Odoardo Di Santo, who came out of retirement to help with the case.

“I tried to thank him but he doesn’t want my thanks,” Madigan said. “He says I made him happy, and that’s enough thank you.”

“It’s true,” says Di Santo. “I am very happy.”

There is no way to overcome the physical legacy of that day in August 1949; Madigan’s skin still itches and cracks if he bumps his legs. But now he has “some money to help,” he says, and most of all, he feels justified.

While the holiday season has been calm for Madigan and his wife, she has come with the comfort of knowing their long battle is over.

“I appreciate everything that has been done,” Madigan said. “We’re going to be fine. “

Elna M. Lemons