Police officers are frequently injured in the line of duty, typically either in motor vehicle accidents or in physical altercations. Police officers do receive worker’s compensation benefits for these types of injuries. However, the recovery under the Worker’s Compensation Act in Maine are limited to medical expenses and a weekly indemnity payment (lost earnings) after seven days. The indemnity payments are essentially based upon two thirds of the officer’s average weekly wage over the 52 weeks prior to the injury. There is also a statutory maximum indemnity cap which does apply to most officers injured on the job. There is no payment under the Worker’s Compensation Act for pain and suffering, or loss of enjoyment of life.

Depending upon the facts and circumstances of the event causing the injury, the police officer may be able to pursue a civil case to seek full compensation for their injuries. Some states apply what is called the fireman’s doctrine to preclude or limit the ability of a police officer hurt on the job to pursue a civil recovery. This is becoming a disfavored doctrine under the law. Maine has never adopted the fireman’s doctrine and it is highly unlikely that it ever would be accepted by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. It is generally accepted in the legal field in Maine that police officers can recover civilly from a third-party that is negligent or otherwise culpable in causing them injury.

Typically these cases arise in a motor vehicle accident situation. If a police officer is injured in a motor vehicle accident while on the job, in addition to the worker’s compensation benefits described above, they can pursue a third-party claim against another driver who was negligent in causing their injuries. For example, a police officer is involved in an on-duty collision caused by a drunk driver. The police officer could pursue a claim against the drunk driver’s insurance company. In theory, a claim could also be pursued against the drunk driver individually if their insurance is inadequate to compensate the police officer.

In addition to the third party’s insurance company, the injured police officer could also pursue a claim against one or more Uninsured Motorist insurers. Maine law requires every auto insurance policy to have an uninsured motorist component. Almost always, the amount of uninsured motorist coverage is the same as the liability limit. If a police officer is injured on-duty in an automobile accident and the other negligent driver’s insurance policy is inadequate to cover the officer’s injuries, the officer likely has a claim against the uninsured motorist coverage on the police vehicle in which he or she was riding. In addition, they likely have an uninsured motorist claim against their own automobile insurance. We recently successfully pursued a claim against an impaired driver by recovering from the other driver’s insurance company, the municipality’s uninsured motorist carrier, and the officer’s individual uninsured motorist coverage.

There may also be potential sources of recovery if an officer is injured by a negligent or otherwise culpable third party in a struggle or physical altercation. The culpable individual’s homeowner’s coverage might be one source of recovery. Further, the individual’s personal assets could be reached to compensate the injured officer for their injuries.

In the event that there is a third-party recovery after the payment of worker’s compensation benefits, under Maine law, the worker’s compensation insurer would have a right to be repaid for part of what it paid in medical and indemnity payments. There is a statutory formula involved, however, it works out to roughly two thirds of what had been paid. In other words, if a worker’s compensation insurer paid $30,000 in medical and indemnity payments to the injured officer, they would need to be reimbursed approximately $20,000.

In conclusion, if you are injured on the job as described above, you should contact Troubh Heisler to discuss the specific events. There is no cost for the consultation and the services would be performed on a contingency basis. In other words, there will be no legal fees paid unless there is an affirmative recovery. We would then receive a percentage of the recovery. Troubh Heisler offers a discounted contingency fee to law enforcement officers.

If you have any questions about this article, please let us know.

Daniel R. Felkel

Jonathan M. Goodman

William K. McKinley