Police officers are exposed to dangers on the job every day that subject them to personal injury or death. Almost every aspect of the job–whether confronting criminals, responding to fires or other calls and emergencies, driving a vehicle, or directing traffic–involves serious risk of injury.
When police officers suffer on the job personal injuries and are rendered unable to perform their duties, they are entitled to wage and medical benefits by statute, M.G.L. Chapter 41 Section 111F. But these statutory benefits merely sustain the officer and his or her family through the period of disability in much the same way as worker’s compensation does in a civilian job. They do nothing to compensate for from the suffering caused by the police officer’s injury or death. The statutory benefits also do nothing to hold the person who caused the officer’s injuries responsible for their actions.
The fact is that police officers have the same rights as any other injured person to recover from those liable for their injuries. A simple example of this occurs when a police officer is injured in a traffic accident due to the negligence of another. In that instance, the officer will automatically collect work compensation-like benefits under Section 111F as discussed above, but may also bring – liability claim against the person responsible for the accident. To the extent the officer recovers from the person responsible (or more likely their insurance company), they must pay back the municipality for the benefits they have received. Often, however, a compromise can be reached such that both the officer and the municipality receive compensation from the person who caused the injury.
An officer’s ability to pursue liability claim does not end at the person who directly causes their injury, for example the person who rear-ends a police cruiser. When a police officer responds to an emergency caused by someone else’s negligence and gets hurt while responding, the person responsible for the accident may be directly liable to the officer to provide compensation. This is known as the “rescue doctrine,” a sensible legal doctrine based on the idea that a person who negligently creates an emergency can be required to compensate people like police officers who have to respond to that emergency.
In many states, a police officer cannot recover compensation for injury the person responsible for creating the emergency to which the officer responds. Under a rule somewhat confusingly named the “firefighter’s rule,” both policeman and firefighters are prevented in many states from recovering from the person responsible for the emergency situation because they assumed the risk by responding to the call. This unfair doctrine is NOT the law in Massachusetts.
Both the “rescue doctrine” and the “firefighter’s rule” are discussed in Hopkins v. Medeiros, 48 Mass. App. Ct. 600 (2000). In that negligence case, the Court held that an officer could permissibly recover compensation for injuries against a man who “vehemently” urged a friend to resist arrest, prompting a riot of sorts in which the officer was injured.
The variety of situations police officers encounter every day are endless. Obviously it is often not possible to collect from criminals who injure police officers because they are typically uninsured and without collectible assets. However, a police officer who suffers personal injuries has more avenues than he or she might think to recover for injuries above and beyond medical and disability benefits. They would do well by themselves and their families to explore those options with an attorney experienced in pursuing such claims.
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