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Pepper-spray officer gets workers’ compensation benefits

On behalf of Jeffrey Frederick of Frederick & Hagle posted in Workers’ Compensation on Thursday, November 7, 2013.

A strange twist of events resulted in a $38,000 in workers’ compensation settlement for a university police officer, according to an Oct. 16 announcement. It happened in another state but the reasoning of the case is likely to be influential in Illinois and elsewhere. Back on Nov. 18, 2011, there was a campus demonstration at a university in which students were protesting tuition hikes. A video of a university cop spraying a group of students with pepper spray went viral on the Internet. The officer later applied for workers’ compensation benefits by claiming that he suffered a workplace injury, in the form of a permanent psychiatric impairment, from the pepper-spray event and its aftermath.

On the widely-broadcast video he is shown liberally applying pepper spray to a group of seemingly defenseless protesters seated on the pavement. He was afterwards suspended with pay. He received more than 17,000 angry and/or threatening e-mails, 10,000 text messages and hundreds of letters complaining of his actions, according to the police union. Apparently, his 15 minutes of fame was more than he could take.

He is reported to have changed his phone number and email addresses several times during the incoming deluge of hate mail. He even reportedly changed residences. He left the force in July 2012. The University of California at Davis, where the incident occurred, in a separate development settled a federal lawsuit earlier this year by paying $1 million to three dozen pepper-sprayed protesters.

Although not specified, he must have suffered some kind of psychiatric breakdown from the outpouring of hate directed to him personally. He succeeded in arguing that this was a permanent partial disability and a workplace injury. Even if the officer was negligent in doing what he did, workers’ compensation benefits must be paid for any work-related injury regardless of fault.

UC Davis issued a statement saying that the $38,055 represented settlement of all claims of psychiatric injury suffered from his employment at the university. The university added that the amount of workers’ compensation benefits payable was based on statewide permanent impairment calculations. The same principle applies in general terms in Illinois: if there is a workplace injury, the worker is entitled to collect comp benefits no matter who was at fault.

Source: sfgate.com, UC Davis pepper-spray officer awarded $38,000, Joe Garafoli, Oct. 23, 2013

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