Letter: Government should remedy workman’s compensation shortcomings

From: Dick Marshall


It is a boon to society and governments to have citizens step forward to become volunteer “reserve” sheriff deputies or police officers. However, there is a hidden danger to these folks who are not paid for their work.

Indiana has a worker’s compensation legal system that provides minimal benefits (disability, impairment, medical bills) to employees who are injured “by accident arising out of and in the course of employment.” (“Disability” refers to the partial payment of replacement wages if one is unable to work.) The catch in this legal system is that the only people eligible for these financial benefits are people “under any contract of hire …, written or implied,” which simply means that the injured person must be paid wages, salary or some form or remuneration.

A volunteer or reserve officer who is not paid is ineligible for any worker’s compensation benefits other than medical. In Indiana, a severely injured, permanently and totally disabled paid employee may potentially receive two-thirds of his average weekly gross wages for life, tax free. Such disability benefits are not available to any unpaid volunteer or reserve officer.

Does the unthinkable tragedy really happen to volunteers and reserve officers? Yes, it does. In Madison, a reserve officer on duty in the place of a regular (paid) vacationing deputy sheriff incurred a one-vehicle accident in a squad car that left him totally, permanently disabled with traumatic brain injury. This man is a husband and father with a wife and young children. All that he received was his hospital and medical bills.

The Indiana Legislature needs to statutorily remedy this problem with a legally imputed salary based upon seniority. Also, county government could create a system that would cover this serious shortcoming.