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Rearended Officer Collects Extra Money


The lesson to be learned from this recent case is to be sure you have examined your own personal automobile insurance policies and have purchased substantial limits of the optional Part 12 Underinsured Motorist Benefits coverage in the event you are ever injured in an incident involving a motor vehicle.  Had this police officer not purchased the optional limit of $100,000 on his own personal vehicle, his total recovery in this case would have been limited to the $20,000 which he recovered from the defendant’s insurance policy.  (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).  

In November, 2004, Officer White was a passenger in an unmarked cruiser waiting at a red traffic signal when the cruiser was struck in the rear by a vehicle which failed to stop.  Although the cruiser was struck hard and pushed forward, there was no visible damage other than a subtle impression of the license plate of the defendant’s vehicle on the rubber bumper cover of the cruiser.   Officer White declined medical treatment and decided to walk off the slight discomfort he felt in his back.  He had experienced lower back problems in the past and hoped that this discomfort would pass quickly, but it did not.  The following week he saw his primary care physician for a previously scheduled physical and reported that since the accident he was having continuing back discomfort which radiated into his leg.  His physician diagnosed a sciatic nerve condition and prescribed a course of physical therapy.   By the time Officer White went for his first physical therapy appointment, his lower back pain had increased and he developed lower leg numbness.  Despite receiving therapy, the symptoms worsened over time.  Within two months, his condition had progressed to the point where the back pain had increased and traveled down into his leg.  He continued to work since the accident, but the long hours in a cruiser aggravated his pain and numbness.  Eventually, he was referred to a neurosurgeon who sent him for an MRI.  The film revealed a disc herniation in his lumbar spine, part of which was pressing upon a nerve root.  Surgery to remove the disc fragment was scheduled quickly.   The surgery was successful and Officer White was then sent for physical therapy during his rehabilitation period.  He was then evaluated and cleared to return to his full duties.  He had returned to work rather quickly so he only missed 13 weeks of work after his surgery.  During this 13 week period his department paid his base wages and medical expenses, but he lost the opportunity to work valuable overtime and details.

A claim was made against the driver of the vehicle which rear-ended the cruiser.  That vehicle was only insured for the minimum coverage of $20,000 per person injured.  We were able to quickly resolve that claim, but we evaluated Officer White’s case to be worth more than the $20,000 in insurance.  Fortunately, Officer White had purchased $100,000 of Part 12 Underinsured Motorist Benefits on his own personal automobile insurance policy.  Given he had already collected $20,000, that meant that he could make a claim for up to $80,000.  (The amount of the Defendant’s insurance coverage is subtracted from the Part 12 Underinsured Coverage limit in order to determine the maximum amount of available coverage.) 

We made a claim with Officer White’s insurance company against the Part 12 Underinsured Coverage, but his insurance company put up substantial resistance in resolving that claim.   His insurance company claimed the accident could not have caused such a serious injury, as the property damage to the unmarked cruiser was negligible.  Further, it argued that Officer White had prior back problems, so that this accident had not caused any more damage to his back than was already there.  Finally, the insurance company argued that the $20,000 he had recovered from the defendant was more than enough compensation, as he was only out of work for 13 weeks.  We strongly disagreed as Officer White underwent surgery, endured substantial pain and suffering and lost 13 weeks of work.  Under the terms of the insurance policy, the disputed claim was submitted to private binding arbitration before an arbitrator. 

At the August, 2007 arbitration, we presented a report form Officer White’s neurosurgeon in which he stated that the November, 2004 accident had caused a significant aggravation of Officer White’s pre-existing back problems.  Fortunately, he was able to locate an MRI of Officer White’s lower back which had been conducted prior to the November, 2004 accident.  When the  post-accident MRI was compared with the older MRI, it showed the post-accident disc condition to be much worse than in the past.  After a hearing in which both Officer White and his fellow officer, who drove the cruiser, testified about the severity of the impact, the arbitrator rendered his decision in favor of Officer White.  The arbitrator awarded Officer White an additional $55,000 to be paid from his own insurance policy, which, when added to the $20,000 already collected, gave him a total recovery of $75,000. 

Injured officers throughout Massachusetts should always consider seeking a free consultation with us to determine their 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/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/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, 2007.


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