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Damaged Hearing


Detail officers are exposed to a variety of hazards: noise, dust, fumes, toxins and inadvertent contact with machinery and vehicles. These hazards can cause serious injuries which easily could have been prevented except for one simple fact: no attention was paid to the safety of the detail officer by the crew. Utility and construction crews are trained to watch out for each other and insure each other’s safety. They often are not trained to pay attention to the police officer on the detail and often forget his presence as they do their work. Some companies utilize faulty equipment in need of repair which exposes the detail officer to unnecessary risk. These utilities and other companies must be compelled to consider the detail officer’s safety as they do their own crews.
This is the lesson of this case, which involved Officer Rose,¹who lost part of his hearing because a greedy company didn’t want to slow down work by removing a van from service which sporadically backfired. In 1994, Officer Rose was working a paid detail for a cable construction company. He was never warned by any of its workers not to stand near the van as it could backfire at any time. It was 2:00 p.m. and Officer Rose was directing traffic around the company’s van. There was a worker on the utility pole in an aerial lift at the time. Officer Rose was standing near the rear of the van looking at approaching traffic with the left side of his head opposite the driver’s side of the van when he heard what sounded like a cannon going off. It was, in fact, the engine of the van backfiring loudly. As a result of the blast, which he heard and felt, Officer Rose experienced intense ringing in his left ear, nausea, pain on the outer and inner part of the ear and trouble hearing out of his ear. Officer Rose had suffered high frequency sensorineural hearing loss which partially disabled him from hearing and understanding speech, when there is background noise such as conversation, vehicle noise, music and sound such as voices from a television. He also has difficulty with sound coming from the left side.

As it turned out, the cable company knew about the problems with its van backfiring and took no measures to keep it off the road or warn Officer Rose of the problem. This particular cable company was more interested in timely completing a job while keeping expenses down. The van should have been removed from service, an obvious expense of doing business the right way. Unfortunately, the cable company was not concerned with the foreseeable harm it might cause to its own workers and detail officers, whom it knew would be employed and positioned nearby their van. As a result, Officer Rose has a partial hearing loss for the rest of his life because of the cable company’s negligence. Rather than accepting it as just one of the many hazards of the job, Officer Rose pursued the company for just compensation of his injury and won.

It is significant that Officer Rose never lost a day of work. Too many injured officers believe no lost time from work equals no legal rights to make a claim for compensation of their injuries. Officer Rose immediately returned to work despite his pain and discomfort. Contrary to the poor image portrayed at times of the police in the media, Officer Rose likes his work. Further, he needed the income and medically did not need to stay out of work, despite his injury. However, that does not mean that he must accept his disability without just compensation, as he is inconvenienced and bothered by his hearing loss every day of his life.
To his credit, Officer Rose has continued to work and has adapted to his hearing loss. His medical bills were minimal, less than $1,000.00, as there was no treatment which would restore his hearing.

Accidents happen and not all are compensable events. I do not advocate frivolous and trivial claims for pain and suffering. However, investigation and deposition testimony from the driver of the van revealed this cable construction company had problems with this van engine backfiring for a number of months and that their driver had a complete lack of concern for the detail officer. The cable construction company had attempted to fix the van unsuccessfully a number of times. The driver testified he never knew when it would go off and that it was as loud as an explosion. Knowing this, he admitted never warning Officer Rose of the problem and never looking for him before restarting the engine.

During the litigation we obtained the cable company’s Employee Handbook which mandated the driver keep a lookout for fellow workers located in the area in relation to the job the driver was doing and to keep a sharp eye out for situations that might cause an injury. Unfortunately, the detail officer positioned near the rear of the vehicle next to the dangerous exhaust system was not considered a “fellow worker” who should be looked out for. We successfully argued the driver negligently failed to follow procedure and common sense to look out for Officer Rose and failing to keep in mind the Officer’s position at the rear of the backfiring truck.

An example of the mentality of some crew’s lack of concern for the detail officer’s safety is the driver’s testimony. He admits he never knew when the truck would backfire, so he never warned Officer Rose about the backfiring problem:

Answer: Yeah. You know, like I said, it wasn't going to happen all the time, so how do you know it's going to do it again or not.

Question: Did you ever warn Officer Rose that there was a backfiring problem with this truck?

Answer: No, I didn't, because you never knew. It may not even do it. It would surprise you. It would catch you off guard when it did it.

At the hearing, the cable company had their own doctor contend that Officer Rose’s hearing wasn’t injured at all from the accident. The doctor opined such a condition is a hazard of police work over the years. It was from years of driving with his left ear near the open driver’s side window for eight hours per day, the noise from other detail assignments and the firing of his gun at the range. These arguments were dispensed with by the testimony of our expert, who is a physician in the Ear, Nose and Throat Department at a prominent Boston teaching hospital. He explained the mechanism of the injury, the type of noise required and how the percussion damaged nerve fibers in the inner ear which do not grow back. Such hearing loss as it turns out is common with exposure to loud noises and one about which officers should be careful.

Officers working details who are exposed to foreseeable hazards without warning or proper precaution taken should not consider their injuries as part of the job. Only by standing up for their rights on each occasion will the private sector get the message that it must not only foresee the provision of safety for its own employees, but for that of the detail officers which they employ on their various job sites.

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 had to leave work for some period of time, or pass up on overtime and details until the injury improves.

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 their injuries. An injured officer should always seek a free consultation to determine the benefits and probability of success on making a claim. The decision whether to go forward then rests with the officer. The decision when to return to work rests, as it should be, with the officer and his doctor.

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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