*Disclaimer: We are not legal authorities and any advice provided should be taken as informational only. Do your own research and consult with a professional.*
Despite having insurance to cover law enforcement action, Chris and his family have had to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars out of pocket to cover all of his expenses. He’s had to hire five separate lawyers to handle the wide variety of issues resulting from the incident. In addition to his criminal charges, the deceased’s family brought a civil suit against him for wrongful death, his insurance company sued him for filing a claim on his policy, and he’s had to retain defense and appeals lawyers in both Hawaii and Virginia. Plus, he’s had to pay for numerous flights and housing in both locations for extended periods of time–expensive items that aren’t necessarily covered by insurance.
Let’s take a few minutes to talk about insurance, lawsuits, and professional associations. Many of you in the law enforcement community may be thinking “that sucks for him, but that’s why I have liability insurance.” Well, it’s not quite that simple. Chris had professional liability insurance and was covered under his renter’s insurance for negligence/wrongful death, and they are actually costing him more money.
When the civil suit was brought against Chris for wrongful death, he filed a claim under his renter’s insurance policy to cover the expense of hiring a civil attorney. The insurance company didn’t want to pay, so they turned around and sued Chris, and he had to hire yet another attorney to fight his own insurance company! His lawyer won that suit, so the insurance company is forced to cover Chris for the wrongful death suit in Hawaii, but this policy is very limited financially. Luckily that case has been stayed and will not proceed until the criminal case is over, but the future costs of the lawsuit are still pending, and the policy will likely not be enough to cover all the expenses.
Professional liability insurance is designed to protect officers from being held personally liable for acting within the scope of their employment. It is recommended for all law enforcement officers due the nature of the job and our overly-litigious society. Over a year after the incident, Chris’ attorneys are still fighting with his professional liability insurance policy to provide coverage. At this point, they have neither declined nor agreed, but even if they do end up covering, the coverage limit of his particular policy will only reimburse up to half of what has already been invoiced by his attorneys. The limit has long been passed, and no future costs will be covered.
This is not to say that you should not have professional liability or any other type of insurance to cover you. If and when Chris’ insurance pays his claim, it’s going to help him out quite a lot–but it still won’t be nearly enough since his case is so complex. Everyone should be insured! Just make sure you’re protected to the fullest extent, know your coverages/exceptions and keep in mind the insurance company may not automatically pay your bills just because you pay theirs.
The Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association (FLEOA) is the largest federal law enforcement professional association. At the time, Chris wasn’t a member of FLEOA, but he became one after the incident. We can’t say enough about what a difference FLEOA has made for Chris–they have supported him throughout the process, providing legal advice even before he became a member, meeting with his attorneys, writing articles about his case, using it as an example to support the Officer Safety Act of 2012, and they are continuing to lobby on Chris’ behalf. If you’re a federal law enforcement officer, it is in your best interest to join FLEOA.
That’s it for today’s lessons to be learned. We believe these are the kind of things that every officer should be aware of, and unfortunately it took our friend Chris learning the hard way to really hit it home for us. Please donate to help him keep fighting the system so that his case doesn’t set a terrible precedent for the future.
Friend us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and tell everyone you know. Personally, we’re sending an email to every cop we know. We need to spread the word about what’s actually going on just as much as we need to raise money. Every little bit helps, so please pass it on.