Traffic collisions and accidents represent a hazard to your health and safety as much as any other work related injuries. Due to the nature of your duties as a Safety Member you spend a considerable amount of time driving the streets and highways, thus drastically raising your chances of being involved in an automobile accident.

The purpose of this article is to educate and inform you, of the interaction between workers compensation benefits, 3rd party claims, and most importantly, uninsured motorist benefits.
The typical situation we see is when a negligent driver causes an accident which results in serious injuries to a Safety Member while on duty. Whether it is a driver who failed to yield to a fast traveling emergency vehicle with lights and sirens, a driver on a highway hitting an officer on the shoulder during a routine traffic stop, or a careless driver who changes lanes without noticing a motor officer, the nature and circumstances surrounding these accidents, tend to lead to very serious injuries which may require many months of medical treatment and recovery.

Workers Compensation Benefits:

A Safety Member, who is injured while on duty, is entitled to workers compensation benefits. Such benefits include, but are not limited to; all medical care, disability payments during treatment and recovery, and a permanent disability award, if applicable. Workers Compensation benefits, however, do not include payment for pain and suffering, lost overtime or damage to personal property for injuries sustained as a result of such accidents.

Claims Against Negligent Driver’s Insurance Company (3rd Party claims):

In addition to the workers compensation claim, an injured Safety Member may also present a claim, or file a civil lawsuit against the person or persons who caused the accident. All medical bills, loss of earnings and other expenses may be presented during such lawsuit, even if paid by the workers’ compensation carrier. The carrier, however, has a right for reimbursement once a recovery is made from the 3rd party carrier. The most important aspect of the civil lawsuit is the fact that the injured Safety Member is entitled to compensation for pain and suffering, which in many instances may be more than all the medical bills and loss of earnings combined.

 Uninsured / Underinsured Motorist Coverage:

As explained previously, compensation for pain and suffering, which may be the most important factor, is not available under the workers’ compensation system, but is available when pursuing a claim against a third party. But what happens when the negligent driver is uninsured or carries minimal insurance that isn’t adequate? Recovery may be available if the injured Safety Member carried uninsured motorist coverage under his or her own policy. Most insurance companies and insurance brokers do not “push” their insured to get such coverage. Uninsured motorist coverage adds minimal premium but affords all the benefits that would have been available if the negligent party carried adequate insurance (subject to certain credits and off-sets). Therefore, it is extremely important to get increased limits on your uninsured motorist coverage under your own automobile insurance.  How much coverage do you carry if you are responsible for an accident?  Shouldn’t you carry at least the same amount or more to protect you and your family should you be injured by an uninsured or underinsured motorist?

For example, a police officer, riding his motorcycle on the freeway, is hit by a negligent driver and sustains serious internal injuries and fractures which require $75,000 in medical care. The officer is temporarily disabled for a period of 8 months. The Workers’ Compensation Carrier will pay for all medical expenses and pay the lost income for the 8 months, (i.e.  $8000 per month).  The total amount of benefits paid, after 8 months, would be $139,000. But what about compensation for the pain, suffering, and lost overtime as a result of the accident? If the negligent third party was uninsured or carried minimal coverage, the officer will be able to present a claim to his or her insurance company under their own uninsured motorist coverage. If the coverage, in this instance, is $250,000 per person, then the officer will be able to collect the additional $111,000 as compensation for pain and suffering. It is recommended that all officers carry a minimum of $100,000 per person, but preferably $250,000 or higher per person under their uninsured motorist coverage. Once you contact your automobile insurance carrier, you may be surprised what little extra premium you may be charged for such coverage.

You are at a greater risk of serious injuries as a result of automobile accidents and the workers’ compensation system does not adequately compensate you for your injuries.  However, you can protect yourself and your family under the civil laws of the state of California by maintaining personal coverage that is high enough through your own auto insurance, in the form of uninsured motorist coverage. Many people believe that making a claim against their own uninsured policy will raise their premiums. However, the uninsured coverage stands in the shoes of the negligent party and no fault should be assessed against the injured safety member.  As a result your premium should not be affected.  Be safe out there!