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Dislocated Shoulder


The following case synopsis holds three important lessons for police officers. First, even if the injured officer suffers an injury to a part of his or her body which has been previously injured or operated on, the law provides for compensation when pre-existing conditions are made worse. Second, even if the Defendant is not ultimately charged criminally, the injured officer can still bring a successful claim. Finally, an injured officer should always consider obtaining a second opinion if his intuition is that his first physician is not taking his injury seriously or is missing something. In this case, after the first physician released the officer back to work, the injured officer's second doctor found structural damage requiring surgery.

In the course of duty, Officer White¹ and his partner attempted to place the Defendant Jones into protective custody. The incident took place at night outside a local bar. Jones along with several others were spotted from the officer's cruiser carrying open bottles of beer and disturbing the peace. When Jones and his companions were instructed by Officer White and his partner to put down their bottles and move along, everyone went along peacefully except for the Defendant. The intoxicated Defendant, a fellow City worker, took exception and created a scene, feeling his employment with the City entitled him to carry on in public. The Defendant was obviously intoxicated: his eyes were glassy, he was staggering, extremely hostile, and smelled of alcohol. His companions could be heard saying to him “let it go and let's get out of here.” However, the Defendant refused to cooperate and became extremely agitated. He refused to put down his beer and leave the area and began to curse and make obscene gestures at Officer White and his partner. The officers then decided to put Jones in protective custody and asked him to get into the cruiser. He refused and told them they were crazy. Officer White tried to calm Jones down, but to no avail. Due to his high level of intoxication and behavior, the officers decided to handcuff Jones before placing him in the cruiser. The Defendant Jones, at approximately 6 feet tall and 230 lbs., was much larger physically than Officer White and his partner. A struggle ensued when Jones refused to give up his hands for the handcuffs.

During the struggle, the Defendant lost his balance and began to fall. Officer White let go of Jones' arm, but Jones reached out and held onto Officer White's jacket sleeve in order to right himself. He ended up pulling down Officer White, who fell to the ground awkwardly with the Defendant on top of him and his arm outstretched from the street on to the sidewalk. From the weight of the Defendant and the awkward position in which he fell, Officer White's shoulder dislocated. When Jones rolled off, Officer White immediately grabbed his left shoulder and felt it pop back into place again.

Once on the ground, Jones was placed into cuffs by Officer White's partner and transported to the Police Department. Jones continued to act in a highly intoxicated and uncooperative manner in route and even to other officers at the police station. As a courtesy, Jones was not charged and his employer was called to the station to take Jones home.

Prior to his police career, Officer White was active in high school and college sports. As a result of prior athletic injuries, he had dislocated the same shoulder a number of times and had undergone prior surgeries on the same shoulder before joining the police department. After the incident with Jones, Officer White's shoulder pain persisted and he was unable to work due to weakness in the shoulder. Officer White was referred to a local orthopedic surgeon for consultation and treatment. No procedure was done to attempt to fix the shoulder weakness other than muscle strengthening exercises and therapy to attempt to tighten up his shoulder muscles, thereby stabilizing his shoulder.

The first orthopedic surgeon released Officer White back to work after several months of therapy, but because of persistent pain and weakness in his shoulder, he was unable to fully do his job. Officer White felt there was a significant problem with his shoulder which had been overlooked when he was released back to work. He then sought a second opinion. This second orthopedic surgeon performed an MRI and determined that due to abnormalities found in the MRI Officer White required surgery to stabilize his shoulder. Officer White had a left shoulder arthroscopy under general anesthesia. The surgeon found degenerated tissue, which he trimmed, and stabilized the joint by applying heat to the shoulder joint capsule to shrink and tighten it.

Officer White progressed well following his surgery. However, it was this second surgeon's opinion that due to the instability of his shoulder, he should not return to work as a police officer. The Chief of Police, acting for the City, filed an involuntary application to the retirement board for Officer White based upon the medical report of the second surgeon and the report of the municipally designated physician. All physicians concurred that the previous shoulder dislocations contributed to his need for surgery, but that the current condition was precipitated by the dislocation injury to his shoulder when placing the Defendant Jones into protective custody. Officer White was retired and is pursuing a second career.

A claim was filed against Jones for negligently struggling with Officer White during his attempt to place Jones in protective custody, which aggravated Officer White's pre-existing shoulder condition. After depositions were taken in the case, a mediation was held with Jones' insurance company, resulting in Officer White's claim settling for $100,000.00.

An injured officer should always consider seeking a free consultation 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. The decision when to return to work rests, as it should, with the officer and his or her doctor.

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 and or related statutes.

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.

¹ The officer's name has been changed to protect his privacy. He has consented to having the facts of his case written about to help educate other officers about their rights. The name of the Defendant has also been changed. The similarity between the officer's and or the defendant's names with real persons living or deceased is merely coincidental and not intended.


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