In the line of duty – making a claim when employed by the police or fire service
Police officers and firefighters accept a certain level of risk in their profession. It is part of the job and can never be fully eradicated. Being injured on duty does not automatically mean a police officer or firefighter has a civil claim for personal injury. However, there are circumstances where making a personal injury claim is the appropriate response.
It is important that police officers and firefighters are aware of the legal options that exist if something goes wrong that could have been prevented. This is important as you may have sustained life changing injuries and be unable to work or provide for your family. The availability of a personal injury claim to serving police officers and firefighters is not designed to hamper or impede the important duties that they perform. A civil claim is not an exercise in establishing culpability or meting out punishments to individuals, forces or services, but rather to investigate negligence.
Contrary to widespread misconceptions there is nothing shameful about pursuing compensation through legitimate legal avenues where you have suffered an injury whilst trying to perform your job. You may have concerns about being judged or bullied by colleagues for making a claim. However civil claims against the police or fire service can often result in positive changes to policy, procedures and behaviours that can help prevent further accidents from taking place. This benefits every serving officer or firefighter.
Types of accidents and common injuries
Accidents can occur in a variety of circumstances during the course of a police officer or firefighter’s work such as:
- pursuing or apprehending suspects
- attendance at the scene of a fire
- road traffic accidents
- falls from height
- slips and trips
- inadequate training (and accidents occurring during training exercises)
- provision of incorrect (or a lack of) personal protective equipment
- working in hazardous work environments
The types of injuries that can be sustained are of course wide ranging and their impact will depend on the particular individual and circumstances. Serious injuries that can be suffered include fractures, stab and gunshot wounds, burns, scarring, crush injuries, smoke inhalation, amputation, psychological damage, spinal injuries and brain damage for example. Sadly fatal injuries can also occur.
The law if you suffer an injury due to your work
If you have had the misfortune of suffering an injury in the course of your employment as a police officer or firefighter following an accident then you may be able to make a personal injury claim.
To succeed in any civil claim it is necessary to establish that a duty of care was owed to a Claimant; that that duty was breached, and the breach resulted in a foreseeable loss. All police officers and firefighters are owed a duty of care by the police or fire service, as their direct employer. The police and fire service, like all employers, must adhere to workplace regulations to ensure, in so far as they are able, the safety of their employees. There are exceptions that apply to the police with operational decisions taken in the heat of the moment under pressure but these are better addressed on a case by case basis by a solicitor.
If you have sustained personal injury as a serving officer or firefighter and you have not already done so, you need to report the accident to your supervising officer or lieutenant and make sure that it is fully documented. If there are any witnesses to the incident make sure you obtain their details as their account could be important in assisting you to prove your case.
A civil claim is designed to put an individual back into the position they were in before the accident occurred. It is possible to recover damages for financial losses as well as for the injuries themselves and the associated treatment costs.
Your solicitor will advise on the nature of medical evidence required to support your claim based on the injuries you have sustained. It is helpful to keep a record of any financial losses incurred as a result of your injuries, including loss of earnings and expenses as well as a diary of care and assistance provided by friends and family after an accident.
If liability is resolved in the early stage of a claim your solicitor can request an interim payment of damages, which is an advance of a final settlement, to fund rehabilitation, treatment and provide much needed financial security if you are unable to resume work in the short or long term.
If a solicitor can resolve liability in the early stages of your claim then they can seek a collaborative approach with the relevant insurer to identify your practical, medical and therapeutic needs. The benefit of early rehabilitation is the potential for a better prognosis and an earlier return to work and where this is not possible, achieving maximum independence to improve quality of life. This benefits all parties to the claim.
What can you seek compensation for?
If you are successful in making a claim you will receive compensation relating to the financial losses and expenses incurred and for your injuries.
Financial losses and expenses include loss of earnings you have suffered as a consequence of your injuries, travel expenses for attendance at hospital appointments, the cost of treatment relating to your injuries and paid or non-paid care and assistance you have required. In addition a claim can be made for miscellaneous expenses incurred such as damage to clothing. Any financial losses that you will incur in the future (such as loss of workplace pensions and workplace benefits) will also be included in your claim.
Damages paid to compensate for injuries suffered include physical and psychiatric injury and comprise an award for the pain, suffering and loss of amenity experienced as a result of your accident.
Time limits to comply with
If you are a police officer or firefighter that has been injured in the course of your role and want to make a claim for personal injury then you must do so within 3 years of the date of your accident. Court proceedings must be issued ahead of this deadline in order to protect any right to compensation that you may have. Whilst there may be some exceptions to this rule, it is very important to take legal advice at as early a stage as possible. Obtaining witness statements and accident related documentation is always easier closer to the event than a number of years later, as memories can fade and documentation can be lost or destroyed.
What to do next
Whilst you may be hesitant or anxious to make a claim, be rest assured that you can speak to a specialist personal injury solicitor in confidence who deals with claims against the police and fire service to see whether you have a personal injury claim. If you do have a claim and would like to pursue this then they will be able to put your mind at rest in relation to the legal process and what will be expected of you as a Claimant. A successful legal claim could help you get your life back on track and may help prevent future accidents from occurring.