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Compensation denied for California deputies injured in Vegas

FindLaw answers questions for California residents about workers' compensation coverage for employees injured on the job. The first question FindLaw lists is "How do I know whether I am covered...?" The answer, it turns out, is not always a simple one.

FindLaw notes the primary influencing factors relate to employment status. Is the claimant, in fact, an employee of the organization, and if so, did the injury directly result from that employment? Even if the answer to both questions is "yes," an employer does not guarantee coverage for every incident. Too many other factors weigh in when workers' compensation insurance is considering payout.

At the risk of stating the obvious, if someone is drunk on the job or purposefully injures himself or herself, insurance has no obligation to cover damages stemming from the exercise of such poor judgment. Other situations, however, may not be as clear.

The Chicago Tribune reported a case of denied claims for four Orange County deputies injured while attending the 2017 Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas. The officers were, in fact, employees of their respective departments at the time of the incident, and all were performing the duties of their positions when "they suffered physical and psychological injuries." When shooting broke out at the festival, the officers acted instinctively - driven by their police tactical training - to assist the wounded, and they saved lives.

The officers certainly did not inflict injury upon themselves, eliminating an immediate no-coverage scenario. Yet, as the Chicago Tribune reported, only four weeks following the event, officials announced the denial of their workers' compensation claims.

Why? This is one of those "other situations" that "may not be as clear." The Tribune noted, "The California labor code says public agencies are required to pay benefits to off-duty police officers hurt while protecting life, peace or property anywhere in California but the code doesn't mention out-of-state actions." Although the deputies met the requirements of protecting life, peace and property while off duty, the fact that the incident happened in Nevada was enough for a denial. 

Officials themselves did not deny the officers had suffered physically or psychologically. They simply understood the California labor code as explicitly stating workers' compensation should not be responsible for claims arising from out-of-state incidents.

The officers can sue, if they so choose. Additional cases in Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties are still pending.

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