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Backed Up on a Stop


Officer Blue, who is the subject of this article, and I want to make sure every police officer in Massachusetts learns from his experience.  You should purchase as much coverage as you can afford, preferably $250,000 per person, for Bodily Injury Caused By An Underinsured Motorist, which is an optional coverage located on Part 12 of your Massachusetts personal automobile insurance policies.  This “Underinsured Coverage” supplements the insurance of the responsible operator when that coverage is not enough (hence “underinsured”) to cover the damages caused in an accident.  This article is too short to cover the other important details and numerous nuances of this coverage, but it is important to note one important point:  Underinsured Coverage stays with you, and in some cases members of your household, wherever you or they are, even at work in most cases, regardless of whether your vehicle is involved in the accident.  It is important to note that before you can increase coverage under Part 12 on your auto policy, you must already have or purchase equal limits under Part 5, Optional Bodily Injury to Others, and this coverage can be costly.  The law prevents you from insuring yourself for higher limits (under Part 12) than you provide for others you may injure (under Part 5).   (In order to protect the privacy of the injured officer and witnesses, all names have been changed.  Any resemblance to names of real persons, past or present, is merely coincidental and not intended.  The injured officer agreed to have this article published in order that police officers around the Commonwealth be better educated about their legal rights to compensation when injured).

In Officer Blue’s case, the defendant driver, who was responsible for injuring Officer Blue, had $100,000 of Part 5 Optional Bodily Injury To Others Coverage on her vehicle.  This may sound like a lot of money at first, but not when you consider the injured officer will lose hundreds of thousands of dollars resulting from his inability to return to work and the loss of his career.   Assuming that Officer Blue had already purchased $250,000 per person of Part 5 coverage on his personal motor vehicle at home, he could have purchased $250,000 of Optional Part 12 Underinsured Coverage for approximately another $90.00 in premium.  Had he done so, his own policy would have provided him with an additional $150,000 of coverage for this accident.  In the case of Part 12 Underinsured Coverage, the amount of available coverage is computed by subtracting the responsible driver’s automobile insurance coverage from the purchased Part 12 limits. In this case, had $250,000 of coverage been purchased, Officer Blue could have made a claim against his own company for $150,000 ($250,000 - $100,000 = $150,000).  If  the defendant driver only had minimum coverage of $20,000, then $230,000 of coverage would have been available to Officer Blue under Part 12 of his own policy. ($250,000 - $20,000 = $230,000).

In this case, Officer Blue made a routine motor vehicle stop of a vehicle which was driving erratically late at night.  Before he ever reached the driver’s side window, the stopped driver inexplicably and suddenly put her vehicle in reverse and backed it up towards the cruiser.   At the time Officer Blue was walking in between the front of his cruiser and the rear of her vehicle, so in order to protect his legs from being pinned between the bumpers of the two vehicles, he instinctively pushed away and off the rear bumper of her vehicle as it backed towards him, while simultaneously hoisting himself onto the hood of his cruiser, before the collision pinned his legs between her rear bumper and the front bumper of his cruiser.  In doing so, he severely injured his right wrist, which is his dominant hand.  The driver was charged with multiple motor vehicle violations, including driving while under the influence of alcohol. 

The injury to Officer Blue’s right wrist involved permanent nerve and tendon damage.  After consultation with numerous hand surgeons, it was determined there was no guarantee that the complicated surgery to repair the nerve and tendon damage in his wrist would ever provide him with enough use of his right hand in order to resume his career as a police officer.  As a result, he was involuntarily and prematurely retired from the department.  Following the accident and since his involuntary retirement, Officer Blue has lost the ability to earn the substantial money he relied on to support himself and his family through working long extra overtime hours and working road details.

We made a claim on his behalf and eventually proved the liability of the defendant driver and the damages caused Officer Blue, and collected $100,000 in a settlement from the defendant driver’s insurance company.  However, had Officer Blue purchased prior to the accident $250,000 of optional Part 12 Underinsured Coverage for approximately $90.00 as described above, we are confident we would have eventually collected another $150,000 from his own company.  Like so many officers I meet and have represented, Officer Blue thought he had “full coverage” because he had $100,000 of Part 5 Optional Bodily Injury To Others.  In my opinion, he did not have full coverage as he had no Part 12 coverage to protect himself and his family.  In hindsight, he wants all of you to know he wishes he had purchased higher Part 5 limits, as required, and then spent approximately $90 for $250,000 of Part 12 Underinsured Coverage.

Injured officers throughout Massachusetts should always consider seeking a free consultation with us to determine his or her rights, benefits, and the probability of making a successful claim.  I am always available by telephone, email or a personal meeting.  Once I evaluate the case and the officer’s chances of success, the decision whether to go forward rests with the officer.  If the injured officer is out of work, the decision when to return to work rests, as it should, with the officer and his or her doctor.  We do not believe in, nor do we have any interest in, keeping officers out injured any longer than necessary to heal from their injuries.  As it is, many of our injured officers never miss a day of work and are still able to receive substantial compensation for their injuries which continue to nag at them during long hours spent behind the wheel of a cruiser and/or standing on a road job.

As with all claims involving an officer's injury on duty, there are no guarantees.  Many police injury cases involve sophisticated legal issues, problems of proof, technical insurance policy coverage disputes, and issues that arise under Massachusetts General Laws c. 41, §100 and §111F, Chapter 152, State Police Article 8 and/or other related laws.
 When we work on these cases, we work on a contingent fee basis. That means the injured officer pays nothing up front and while the case is pending.  He or she only need pay for legal services and expenses at the end of the case, if we successfully collect money on the claim.   We typically will receive one-third of the money collected.   In the off-chance we are unable to collect money for the injured officer, the officer owes nothing for our legal services. 

Copyright, Steven M. Ballin, 2008.


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