Unique to Law Enforcement
Few professions are unique as law enforcement. The daily duties undertaken by police, sheriffs, and correctional officers mean dangerous situations. Dangerous situations can lead to injury. Civilians don’t generally risk their health to assist others as a function of their jobs. So how do workers’ compensation claims differ for law enforcement officers?
I tend to see certain patterns of injuries, some of which lead to direct problems with the performance of duties. Shoulder injuries, for example, are common – not just from take downs during arrests, but they also occur in self-defense tactical training. Foot problems, like plantar fasciitis, sometimes show up after years of being on foot patrol. Lower back and hip issues are exacerbated or even caused by the weight of gun belts and vests worn for ten hours a day. Wrist and hand injuries from cuffing suspects, twisted ankles and knees from foot chases…the list goes on and on.
Additionally, certain benefits, exceptions, and presumptions may apply specifically to officers. The most common are the laws regarding hypertension. If a police officer develops hypertension or heart problems, the burden is placed on the department’s insurance company to disprove that it is a line of duty condition. Another issue to be aware of is that officers may be covered for injuries sustained even if not on active duty. Certain departments provide workers’ comp benefits while their personnel are in departmental vehicles. Other situations are compensable if an officer places him or herself on duty during the commission of a crime. It depends on the agency and specific set of circumstances.
Another common variance in police workers’ compensation claims is the way in which officers are compensated for missed time and permanency. Some departments have “A-time”, or “accident leave” which allow their officers to receive full wages while out for work injuries, without having to burn some or all of their sick leave. In contrast, the average citizen is usually paid 2/3rds of their average weekly wage during this time period. Also, and more importantly, law enforcement is paid what is known “second tier” rates for their disabilities. This generally amounts to thousands of more dollars than a non-public safety individual with the same injuries. Another major benefit enjoyed by police is the possibility of obtaining a disability retirement stemming from a work-related injury. You cannot get the DR and the workers’ compensation benefits simultaneously, but it is possible to obtain awards from both depending on the timing of the claims.
Over the years, I have represented thousands of police officers, many of whom were reluctant to file a claim after being injured. Commonly, they would tell me that getting hurt goes with the job, or that they would just tough it out, or that there was concern over what others would think if they had to go on light duty. Those who chose not to file claims often lost out – not just on the monetary benefits, but on the health benefits – giving up the right to treat with the specialist of their choosing, possibly affecting the quality and speed of their recoveries. It is vital to realize, however, that workers’ compensation rights are there for your protection. Some of the rights and benefits afforded by this area of the law are the most important and valuable for any employee, especially those in the unique situation of serving as law enforcement officers.