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Documenting All Injuries

Documentation Of Even Minor Injuries Can Help Protect Valuable Rights To  Compensation and Benefits

You never know which minor injury or minor trauma will later lead to a chronic, painful and, perhaps, disabling condition.  When this happens, the injured officer would want to take full advantage of their legal right to make a potential valuable claim for compensation over and above the statutory “injury on duty” benefits due them.  Making a habit of documenting all injuries, traumas and symptoms in incident reports, injury on duty forms and/or other prescribed forms can enhance an injured police officer’s chances of making a successful, valuable claim against responsible third parties and various insurance policies.  Although not the subject of this article, noting such injuries, traumas and symptoms would logically make it easier to make a claim for injury on duty (or workers compensation) benefits in connection with that incident.   Over the past 25 years I have collected millions of dollars for officers injured on duty which more fully compensated them for their various injuries, which monies were in excess of the injury on duty and/or workers compensation benefits to which the officer was entitled.  However, on numerous occasions these cases were made difficult because of the lack of any timely documentation of the injury or trauma in the original incident report or in other forms.

Without timely documentation, an injured officer risks being challenged about their credibility concerning the origin of the injury.  In order to avoid the risk of later being challenged in a future case or by the department, I have long advised officers to document every injury, trauma and or new symptom, even when there is absolutely no intention of seeking any medical attention or benefits.  In this manner, should the minor injury, trauma or symptom progress or otherwise worsen over time, the officer will less likely be challenged about the origin of the eventual condition.  It only takes a moment to add a passage to an incident report or on a specifically provided form to protect your rights.  For example, where only minor pain is experienced an entry might read as follows: “Reporting officer felt pain in his right knee upon falling to the pavement during the arrest of the subject.  The officer declined medical attention at this time”.  For trauma without any pain, an entry might read: “Reporting officer struck his right knee on the pavement during the arrest of the subject.  The officer declined medical attention at this time.”  For symptoms which occurred soon after, an entry might read: “Reporting officer felt discomfort in his right knee upon returning to the station, immediately following the arrest of the subject.  The officer declined medical attention at this time.”  Any one of these three entries could save the officer a lot of aggravation, as well as pave the way for a valuable claim worth tens or in some cases, hundreds of thousands of dollars, should that knee condition progress over time to a point where it requires time away from work, surgery and rehabilitation.

Getting hurt on the job is not unusual.  Many injuries resolve quickly without the officer seeking benefits or making a claim for compensation against the responsible third party.  However, some injuries and trauma appear to be minor in nature, but ultimately reveal themselves to be much more serious than originally diagnosed.  It is often difficult to predict which seemingly minor injuries will progress and become more severe over time.  Additionally, there are some injuries and trauma which so weaken an officer’s condition, such as back and neck injuries, that these officers become more susceptible to more severe injuries and conditions due to their weakened or compromised conditions.  Without timely documentation, proving an injury on the job which had originally appeared minor and later became severe or disabling is actually related to the initial injury can be difficult.   

Following are a few example of injuries which previously were thought to be minor, which later became chronic, severe and/or disabling.  During a cruiser collision, it is not uncommon for a knee to impact against the dashboard without initial severe pain.   I have had numerous cases over the years where the symptoms from this impact later became painful and disabling.  The injury, at times, involves the underside of the patellae which is damaged during the trauma when bone scrapes against the smooth underside of the patellae.  Over time, the area becomes inflamed and chronic as the officer walks, runs and moves up and down stairs.  It is not unusual to see such an injury not become apparent until weeks or months later.  This condition often requires arthroscopic surgery to smooth out the backside of the patellae and remove damaged cartilage. 

It is not usual for an officer to strain or suffer trauma to a neck or back during an impact or struggle which later progresses into a severe injury to the cervical or lumbar spine.  Although the strain or trauma may initially appear so minor that the officer did not feel the need to mention it in a report or other documentation, the injury may progress over time.  For example, injuries to the neck or back could result in a small tear of the soft coating which encapsulates the jelly-like material in a disc located between the vertebrae.  These discs provide a cushion between the vertebrae located in the neck and back.  Such a small tear may initially result in no pain.  However, over time the tear may become larger or otherwise permits disc material or irritating fluid to leak out.  When this disc material or fluid comes in contact with a nerve root, the result can be painful, disabling and require surgery and a long rehabilitation period thereafter.

In one case I handled for an officer, he was injured returning from testifying in Court while driving back to the station.  A vehicle approaching from the opposite direction slid on ice and struck his vehicle head on.  Although his initial back symptoms appeared minor, they progressively worsened during the following nine months.  When he became so disabled by the pain as to require an MRI, his doctors discovered a herniated disc which required surgery.  Although his surgeon related the condition back to the accident at work nine months earlier, his Police Department and the insurance companies were quick to question the cause of the herniated disc given the lack of documentation of any trauma to the lower back during the accident.  

Successful claims for third party compensation can still be made when there is a lack of timely documentation.  However, it is much easier for us to prove the origin of the officer’s injury if there is such timely documentation.  Similarly, it is easier for the officer’s treating physician and medical examiners to relate back the injury to the original incident, if there is documentation of the original trauma or injury to that area.  Although the injured officer well remembers the circumstances and his initial complaints of pain and/or symptoms days later, he or she cannot expect that fellow and sister officers will similarly remember the injured officer’s trauma or complaints of pain weeks or months later.  This is certainly understandable given the passage of time and the large number of incidents which officers confront on a daily basis.

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. 

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