By Ryan Heath, Sciaccas Lawyers Special Counsel
We have recently advised an increasing number of police officers who have sustained personal injuries arising from their involvement in motor vehicle accidents. A number of those have resulted from officers being struck by motor vehicles in the course of avoiding random breath testing.
Officers will be aware that if they suffer injuries arising from a motor vehicle accident in the course of their employment they are entitled to lodge a claim with Workcover Queensland for statutory benefits pursuant to the provisions of the Workers Compensation and Rehabilitation Act 2003. What officers may not be aware of is that they are also entitled to lodge a claim against the compulsory third party (CTP) insurer of the at fault vehicle.
Whilst Workcover Queensland will fund the injured officer in terms of medical expenses and time off work once the officer’s injuries are determined to be stable and stationary, the Workcover benefits will cease.
If at that time the officer is suffering ongoing losses, be that a requirement for ongoing medical treatment or an inability to return to the former employment or a loss of OSA, overtime or specials those losses would not be funded by Workcover.
Accordingly it is very important that when an officer suffers personal injuries in a motor vehicle accident that as well as notifying Workcover Queensland that they seek appropriate legal advice about a potential claim against the CTP insurer.
The benefits of initiating a claim against the CTP insurer is that an officer is entitled to claim compensation over and above that offered through the Workcover scheme. Specifically the CTP insurer will be required to put the officer in the same position he would have been financially if the motor vehicle accident had not occurred.
It is common for officers who have suffered injuries from motor vehicle accidents to return to work after a short period of time. However invariably they do so with ongoing injuries and symptoms requiring ongoing treatment or pain relieving medication. It is the extent of those symptoms and how they may affect the officer in the future whilst undertaking first response policing that is an ongoing concern.
The damages recoverable from a CTP insurer include:-
- General damages including pain and suffering and loss of amenities of life
- Past economic loss
- Loss of superannuation benefits on past economic loss
- Future economic loss
- Loss of superannuation benefits on future economic loss
- Out of pocket expenses including medical expenses and medication
- Future medical expenses
The amount awarded for pain and suffering will depend on a number of factors including the age of the injured officer, the injuries suffered, the extent of those injuries on workplace participation and the percentage of permanent impairment assessed by independent medical practitioners.
In terms of economic loss although the Workcover scheme will cover an injured officer for economic loss while the Workcover claim remains current, once it has ceased any entitlement to ongoing economic loss will also cease.
Accordingly an injured officer will only be able to obtain economic loss which flows beyond the date of a Workcover claim through a CTP claim.
Any amount recoverable by the injured officer representing economic loss either past or future also allows the officer to recover an amount for loss of superannuation.
Very often the injuries suffered by an officer can affect their ability to receive the operational service allowance or their ability to take advantage of specials and overtime. Those losses while not recoverable from Workcover will be recoverable against a CTP insurer.
Similarly if an officer suffers significant injuries which results in their medical retirement the losses flowing from that would also be recoverable from a CTP insurer.
A further issue to consider in circumstances where injuries have resulted in a medical retirement is whether there is an entitlement by the officer to make an application to QSuper for a total and permanent disablement payment (TPD).
In this regard officers should be aware that if the injuries are significant enough to result in their medical retirement they can make an application to QSuper for a TPD payment.
A TPD payment will be made where the officer is able to provide medical evidence that they are unlikely to work again in a field for which they are reasonably qualified by education, training or experience.
Accordingly it is very important in circumstances where a medical retirement process commences that the officer is in the position to provide the appropriate medical evidence to satisfy the QSuper TPD definition.
Given the above it is very important that an injured officer seeks timely legal advice at the earliest available opportunity with respect to his prospects of success in a claim for personal injuries against a CTP insurer of an at fault vehicle.
It is important to remember that even if the at fault vehicle leaves the scene of an accident and cannot be identified a claim will remain against the Nominal Defendant.
There are very strict time frames which operate with respect to notification to be provided to a CTP insurer and the date by which a claim must be lodged. If these time periods are missed an officer may be precluded from proceeding with an otherwise worthwhile claim.
While the Workcover scheme seeks to provide some initial assistance no ongoing benefits are recoverable once an injury is stable and stationary. It is only through accessing a compensation award against a CTP insurer that an injured officer is placed in the same position he would have been financially had the accident not occurred.
Should any officer have any queries with respect to a potential claim against a CTP insurer arising from a motor vehicle accident or a possible TPD application based upon a medical retirement they should not hesitate to contact the QPUE or telephone the writer directly, Mr Heath on 3867 8839.