Massachusetts Court of Appeals Sides with Injured Police Officer in Workers’ Compensation Case

In a recent workers’ compensation case, Riley v. City of Lynn, Mass. App. Ct. (2014), the court issued an opinion on the complicated area of the interplay of injured police officer benefits and retirement benefits.

In the case, a police officer had incurred extensive injury to his mouth in the line of duty, such that a decision in 1984 declared that he was permanently disabled, under the legal sense of the term, and that he was accordingly entitled to all of the benefits and compensation afforded to disabled police officers under the law.

In 2008, there was a bench trial that concluded that the injuries to the officer’s teeth and mouth were the natural and proximate cause of the work-related injury, and that therefore so was his need for a full mouth restoration. The judge thus found that the proposed course of treatment and projected expenses were reasonable.

However, the judge ruled that the officer was not entitled to indemnification for those same expenses, since dental coverage was not provided to employees or retirees.

On appeal, the court found that the officer’s right to indemnification was tied solely to the initial 1984 judgment, and the fact that a separate Massachusetts statute addresses compensation for injured police officers and firefighters who are injured in the line of duty. Massachusetts law provides that police officers shall be indemnified for all medical and related expenses “incurred as the natural and proximate result of an accident occurring or of undergoing a hazard peculiar to [a police officer’s] employment,” as long as the injury occurred within the course of duty and is not based on the fault of the person suffering the injury.

Therefore, the court found the officer was entitled to any and all compensation and benefits to which disabled officers are entitled. In fact, at the hearing for the declaratory judgment, at least one city employee explicitly referenced a hypothetical scenario in which if a police officer was injured and lost teeth in the line of duty, the city would be responsible to pay for that work-related injury. This testimony explicitly acknowledged the potential expense of restoring teeth as related to an injury, and being a medically necessary expense.

The fact that retirees are not entitled to dental coverage was deemed irrelevant because the entitlement to the benefits is based on the underlying injury incurred during the course of the duty, not the officer’s eligibility for retirement. Those benefits are distinct from disabled officer benefits.

Therefore, the court modified the lower court judgment, adding a declaration that the officer was entitled to indemnification for a full mouth restoration, according to the particular plan set forth.

If you become injured at work, you’ll want to make sure that you’re represented by a workers’ compensation lawyer. The experienced Massachusetts workers’ compensation lawyers at Pulgini & Norton offer comprehensive guidance and representation in these matters. We will assist you throughout the entire workers’ compensation claim process. Call our office today at (781) 843-2200, or you can contact us online in order to schedule an initial consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Supreme Judicial Court Rules Against Commonwealth in Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Case, Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog, published March 25, 2015

Dual Reports Indicate Workers’ Compensation Benefits Inadequate in Massachusetts, Nationwide, Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog, published March 18, 2015

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