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Collecting for On Duty Injuries

Massachusetts Police Injury Attorneys
Legal Article - Collecting for On-Duty Injuries


Nowhere in Massachusetts law is there the requirement that an injured officer must miss work to bring a claim for compensation of injuries. It is not, and never has been, a legal requirement to make a successful claim. There is a pervasive mistaken belief that injured officers must stay out of work in order to bring a valuable injury claim against responsible third parties who cause their injuries. As a result, on an annual basis, hundreds of local police officers pad the profits of insurance companies by walking away from tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars of valuable compensation. Lost wages or impaired earning capacity is just one of several key measures of compensable damages which are common to injury cases. Officers who quickly return to work usually overlook the other valuable measures of damages which include pain and suffering, future pain and suffering, and scarring.

Examples of injuries where officers have returned to work and collected valuable compensation include officers bitten by dogs, those with back and neck injuries from cruiser collisions, partial hearing loss suffered during construction details, knees sprained during foot pursuit and lower back injuries suffered while wrestling with suspects. I routinely collect compensation for injured officers when the injured officer has not missed a day of work. Typical cases range from $2,500.00 for an officer bitten by a dog leaving a pin hole wound, no resulting scar and missing no time from work to $20,000.00 for an officer who fell downstairs, sprained his back and lost no time from work, nor overtime, nor detail pay. In the last issue of the Sentinel, I wrote about Officer Rose who received $43,500.00 for his damaged hearing, despite the fact that he never missed a shift. It should be noted that all money collected for injured officers in compensation of their injuries is not declarable as income and, therefore, is not taxed by the United States or Massachusetts.

Injured officers, who follow the advice of attorneys who urge them to stay out of work longer than needed, receive more compensation at the end of the case from the inflated claim; however, they could have returned to work earlier and earned valuable overtime and detail compensation which would have offset all or part of the additional compensation received from staying out longer. The officer who returns in a timely manner avoids the risk of alienating superiors and colleagues who might suspect him of malingering and milking the "system." In such scenarios, the unscrupulous lawyer ends up the winner while the officer a loser: money-wise the officer may come out ahead, but his reputation is sullied in the department. Furthermore, any time a decision is made to pad a claim self-esteem takes a hit. No matter how much one rationalizes away the reason for padding a claim, inside, consciously or subconsciously, the person cannot feel good about such a decision. The short term gain of being paid for not working for an extended period of time, is not worth the long term loss of image.

The only acceptable, ethical and logical practice is to leave the decision of whether to return to work and when to return to work to the injured officer and his medical care professionals. The attorney should never enter this equation. Attorneys who get involved in this decision-making progress are unethical, greedy and/or bereft of the skills necessary to collect substantial compensation when there is an early return to work. It is up to the injured officer and the medical care professional to determine when it is safe for the injured officer to return to full or limited duties. Unfortunately, for some officers, due to their own financial needs and/or existing relations within the department, they feel they must expedite their return to work, even when the medical professional feels the return is premature. In these cases the physical pain and suffering associated with the injury is compounded by exacerbation of the injury at work, during what should have been the recuperation period. The inability to meet mortgage payments, credit obligations, loans and, at times, college tuition often leaves the injured officer with no choice but to make a premature return to work.

All injury claims made by injured officers are valuable. At a minimum there is a valuable claim to be made for the pain and suffering which may last weeks, months and at times years. In some cases, valuable compensation is available for scarring, lost overtime and detail pay when the officer has had to leave work for some period of time, or pass up on overtime and details until the injury improves. A skilled attorney can collect valuable compensation for the injured officer, regardless of how soon he returned to work.

For many officers who return quickly to work it takes months and sometimes years for the pain to completely resolve. Often injured backs, necks and knees are aggravated by long hours of sitting in the cruiser or standing on details, which prolong the time it takes to fully recover. Many officers never fully recover from these injuries. An injured officer should always seek a free consultation with an experienced attorney to determine the benefits and probability of success on making a claim. Once informed, the decision whether to go forward with his case rests with the officer and the decision when to return to work rests, as it should be, with the officer and his doctor.

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