Court Awards Another Victory To Police Officers & Fire Fighters Injured In The Line Of Duty.
Last year, the Supreme Judicial Court held that public employers must pay pre- and post-judgment interest on lost earnings when they incorrectly deny a claim for injured-on-duty benefits under Massachusetts General Laws 41, §111F. (see our previous blog entry) In another victory for injured public safety officers, the Appeals Court has affirmed that §111F claims may be subject to arbitration and may be awarded to officers for stress-related injuries. As the arbitrator awarded §111F benefits to an officer who might not otherwise be entitled to him, this case supports arbitration as the most effective means to resolve disputes about whether an officer was legitimately injured-on-duty.
In Town Of Duxbury v. Rossi
(May 15, 2007), an officer’s stress-related hypertension worsened after he argued with his supervisor about swapping shifts. The officer left work immediately following the argument due to elevated blood pressure, but the Town refused to place the officer on paid injury leave. The town’s physician agreed that his stress was work related and that he was not yet ready to return to work. A neutral arbitrator agreed that the injury qualified for IOD pay under the collective bargaining agreement.
The Town asked the courts to vacate the arbitration award. In an example of everything-but-the-kitchen-sink form of argument, the town raised multiple arguments in support of it its appeal. The court rejected every single one.
First the court ruled that the arbitrator properly resolved a dispute about §111F benefits. Second, the Court rejected the Town’s specious argument that the arbitrator’s decision interfered with the Chief’s management rights. This ruling in particular shows that “management rights” is not a magic wand. Third, the court ruled an arbitrator has the power to award §111F benefits even if this award conflicts with the position of the Town’s physician. Fourth, the Court ruled that the arbitrator’s award of benefits does not violate public policy even if the officer was not entitled to §111F benefits for hypertension induced by interpersonal dispute at work. In other words, even if arbitrator made errors of fact and law, the decision must be affirmed. Finally, the court ruled the arbitration decision was not voided by a subsequent court action by the officer addressing his later return to work.