Sacramento, CA – Orange County rejected workers’ compensation claims from four sheriff’s deputies injured in the shooting, paving the way for a court battle that could force appellate judges to eventually decide an untested issue touching several counties and cities in Southern California.
Los Angeles County is considering whether to grant claims from two of its deputies shot Oct. 1 at the Route 91 Harvest festival. Officials acknowledged they have no policy on how to handle such requests and said they expect the issue will result in litigation.
Several other officers from Southern California law enforcement departments also plan to file claims in the near future, according to police unions, potentially forcing as many seven other municipalities – including San Bernardino and Riverside counties -to soon consider similar questions.
If the claims are approved, it could put taxpayers on the hook for years of medical expenses, allow officers to retire early on disability and guarantee injured officers paid time off in the short term. If officers begin to claim injuries related to PTSD suffered during the shooting – as two deputies in Orange County did – it also could open the door for scores of additional filings.
In San Bernardino County, which employs 11 deputies who attended the festival, including Sgt. Brad Powers, who was shot in the leg in Las Vegas, the deputies’ union has initiated talks with the sheriff’s department to advocate that Powers be treated as an on-duty injury.
Steve Nyblom, a manager in Los Angeles County’s risk management branch, which is weighing claims from local two deputies shot in Las Vegas, said legislative intervention may be needed to clarify the labor code in light of the looming disputes. “There is that vague issue, subject to interpretation, and issues relating to legislative intent should be clarified by the legislature,” Nyblom said.
Had all those officers been shot and injured while responding to a mass-killing in California, they likely would be taken care of without dispute. But because they were shot in Nevada instead, their life-saving efforts could cost them dearly.
California’s labor code states that public agencies are required to pay benefits to off-duty police officers injured while engaging in “protection or preservation of life or property, or the preservation of the peace anywhere in this state,” even if the officer “is not at the time acting under the immediate direction of his employer.” Out-of-state events are not mentioned, spurring multiple interpretations of the law.
“The statute does not allow counties to cover off-duty conduct outside of states,” Orange County Supervisor Todd Spitzer said, expressing a view shared by county lawyers. “These police officers went into their instinctive training mode – and I don’t think they should be punished because they trusted their instincts. But it requires a legislative fix to the statute to extend workers’ benefits for out-of-state conduct.”
However, local workers’ compensation attorneys disagree with Orange County’s interpretation of state law. And the union representing Orange County’s sheriff’s deputies has said that if the county denied its members’ claims, the agency would be abandoning officers who were acting in accordance with their department’s training.
“The sheriff’s department has an expectation of its sworn members to take whatever actions are necessary to preserve life wherever they’re at,” said Tom Dominguez, president of the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs. “If they deny the claims, then the message that they’re sending to their peace officers is not to take action when it is certainly warranted.” “Everybody’s watching what happens with these cases,” Dominguez added. Read More…