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Heroic Stop of Motorist


Officer Starsky received word from dispatch to be on the lookout for a green sedan with out-of-state plates.  During his routine patrol, he spotted the vehicle operating erratically on the highway and pulled it over.  After calling in the stop, he learned the operator was wanted in connection with the contested removal of his children from his estranged wife involving a custody dispute.  The operator was also reported to be intoxicated. After asking for license and registration and seeing that the children were in the front seat, the operator was ordered to exit the vehicle.  The operator refused and clearly was concerned Officer Starsky was aware of the problem with his taking the children.  In order to protect the children and keep them from harm, Officer Starsky denied any such knowledge, nor that the children had anything to do with the stop.  Officer Starsky eventually persuaded the operator to allow the children to go to the cruiser to stay warm while the Officer completed his motor vehicle stop and investigation.  The children were removed from the front passenger door and placed in the cruiser.  The Operator then started his vehicle in an effort to get away.  Officer Starsky reached into the vehicle through the front passenger door and struggled with the operator, eventually getting one handcuff on him, but was unable to secure the keys and keep the vehicle in park.  During the struggle, Officer Starsky severely injured his back.  The operator ultimately put the car in gear driving away with Officer Starsky hanging out of the open door.  As he drove away,  Officer Starsky jumped from the open door for his own safety.  The operator ended up driving into a guardrail and was arrested and charged with multiple charges including resisting arrest and disorderly conduct.  The vehicle was owned by the operator's estranged wife's parents and was taken by the operator without their permission.  The insurance company for the vehicle later denied coverage, once it confirmed the vehicle was used without authority.  (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 on duty).

The lack of insurance left Officer Starsky in a bad situation.  In the year prior to this incident, he had undergone lower back surgery, but was successful, after a lengthy period of rehabilitation, in returning to full duties. Now, after this new injury on duty, he could not return to work and was eventually placed on IOD status with his department.   Despite his long and strenuous attempts to rehabilitate from the aggravation of his lower back condition during this motor vehicle stop, he was unable to return to work.  Further, his doctors recommended another invasive lower back surgery.  Officer Starsky was eventually retired on a disability pension after three doctors from PERAC agreed he could no longer perform the essential functions of police work and that his newly aggravated condition was caused by this injury on duty. 

The inability to complete his career left Officer Starsky distraught.  He had worked hard to successfully return to work from his first back surgery.  He was intent on working until a normal retirement age.  Additionally, the loss of valuable overtime and detail pay, on which he had come to rely, was no longer available through the IOD pay he received or thereafter when placed on a disability pension.  Feeling his situation hopeless, Officer Starsky contacted us, although he assumed nothing more could be done for him.  We thoroughly investigated the incident, all reports and documents.  We found Officer Starsky had purchased optional higher limits of $100,000 per person under Part 3, Bodily Injury Caused by Uninsured Motorist for his personal automobile.  We made a claim on his policy with his insurance company, but were immediately rebuffed by his insurance company, which claimed first that Officer Starsky was not injured in an "accident" as defined by the policy, and second, that he had not suffered any new injury.  Relying on the case law and the actual language of the policy, we were finally able to persuade his insurance company that his injury did indeed arise out of the operation of a motor vehicle and that it was not necessary to prove a typical accident involving a collision between two vehicles.  We then had his MRI films before and after the incident closely examined and consulted with his physician and surgeon in order to prove he indeed had suffered a new injury to his lower back, which aggravated his pre-existing condition.  Such aggravations of pre-existing conditions are compensable in Massachusetts.  His case finally settled for the full policy limit of $100,000.00 of coverage which he had purchased.

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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