LITTLE ROCK, Ark., Feb. 25, 2009— -- When Nigel Haskett stepped in to defend a woman at the Little Rock, Ark., fast-food restaurant where he worked, police called him a hero -- but now that it's time to pay his ongoing medical bills, the restaurant's insurance company has essentially told him to be a hero on his own time.
Haskett was working at a McDonald's restaurant last August when a man walked in and allegedly began assaulting a female customer -- his girlfriend. The incident was caught on the restaurant's surveillance camera.
"He struck her in the face, knocked her down and that's when Nigel came to her rescue," said Lt. Terry Hastings of the Little Rock Police Department.
The 22-year-old, who had been working at the McDonald's restaurant for six months, got involved, pushed the man -- who policed have identified as Perry Kennon -- out the door, and blocked the entrance. That's when Kennon allegedly pulled out a gun and shot Haskett in the chest.
"I didn't feel the impact dead on. I didn't feel it right off," Haskett said. But, he said, "it pierced my aorta, my liver and my pancreas. And I had three surgeries."
Surveillance video shows Haskett stumble back from the impact and collapse inside the McDonald's restaurant. The man who allegedly shot him was arrested.
Haskett spent a more than a month in the hospital, undergoing numerous surgeries and racking up medical bills that he says total more than $300,000.
McDonald's insurance company wrote a letter to Haskett, rejecting his $300,000 in claims and saying that his injuries "did not arise out of, or within the course and scope of his employment."
The decision sparked outrage in the local community, where many feel that Haskett deserves compensation.
"I think it's wrong, I really do," said Sonya Parson, a local resident. "It's wrong -- they should give him his workman's comp. You seeing a woman being attacked, what would you do?"
"He did what he should have done," Little Rock resident Paul Easley told ABC News. "That woman was a customer of McDonalds, and I think he had an obligation as a person and as a McDonald's employee to help."
However, legal experts say that according to the letter of the law, the restaurant's insurance company may not be required to pay Haskett a dime. The argument is that the employee was not encouraged or required to put himself in harm's way.
Employee Fights for Workers' Compensation
Phillip Wilson, the attorney Haskett recently hired to help him fight for workers' compensation, said the case sends a chilling message to workers to "be a hero on your own time."
"And so we're telling these people, 'Oh well, you shouldn't be helping anybody, or trying to help anybody while you're on the job, because you're not going to get paid,'" he said. "'You're going to be stuck with these bills, and you know, if you would have died we wouldn't even bury you.'"
Ray Nosler, the owner and operator of the McDonald's restaurant, released a statement this week saying that "McDonald's supports [Haskett's] claim."
"My highest priority is the safety and security of my customers and employees," the statement says. "I stand behind Nigel Haskett. I believe he acted as a Good Samaritan."
If Haskett's claim is ultimately denied, the owner says he intends to personally "cover the cost of his medical expenses."
But Haskett's appeals process could take years, and the restaurant has said nothing about covering a lifetime of surgeries and expenses.
Meanwhile, Haskett said he can't afford to see a doctor, and a bullet remains lodged near his spine. He's been told he should never lift heavy objects again, he said.
Despite the burden of lawsuits and his injury, Haskett still believes it was the right thing to do and said he would do it again.
"I ask myself that question, many, many, many times over. Uh, yes sir I would," the former McDonald's employee said. "I just felt like that's the right thing to do ... even if it would have killed me."
Haskett said McDonald's and its insurance company should follow his lead.
To help Nigel Haskett, contributions can be sent to the Nigel Haskett Appreciation Fund, Twin City Bank, P.O. Box 16270, Little Rock, AR 72231.