High court to rule on city benefits for volunteer police
the associated press
DENVER ” The Colorado Supreme Court said Monday it would decide whether a volunteer police officer in Florence is entitled to worker compensation benefits for problems he suffered after a shooting while on duty.
The case is likely to set a precedent by telling municipalities whether they can offer worker compensation to some volunteers, such as firefighters, but not others.
Booth Pepper claimed he suffered mental impairment and stress from a shooting while he was on duty with Florence’s volunteer police reserve force in September 2001. Details of the shooting incident and its effects on Pepper were not immediately available.
Florence does not offer worker compensation insurance to police volunteers. An administrative law judge and the state Industrial Claim Appeals Office ruled the city was not legally bound to offer the coverage to police volunteers.
The Court of Appeals ruled in September that a state statute making workers compensation mandatory for volunteer firefighters and rescue crews but optional for volunteer police was unconstitutional.
A three-judge panel of the appeals court voted 2-1 that the statute violated the constitutional guarantee of equal protection under the law.
The panel ordered the administrative law judge to reconsider the case with Pepper classified as a town employee eligible for the benefits.
Attorneys for Pepper and the Colorado Intergovernmental Risk Sharing Agency, which provides workers’ compensation coverage for Florence and other governments around the state, did not immediately return calls. There was no telephone listing for Pepper.
“This case is important to help explain the extent of municipal workers’ compensation coverage for reserve peace officers, and the financial liability of cities in that regard,” said Sam Mamet, executive director of the Colorado Municipal League, which represents 265 municipalities including Florence.
In a dissenting opinion in the Court of Appeals ruling, Judge Russell Carparelli said Pepper could not prove that volunteer police officers were so similar to paid officers that they should enjoy the same workers’ compensation coverage, nor could he prove that the Legislature unconstitutionally chose to protect some volunteers and not others.
The Court of Appeals said county and municipal governments have an interest in encouraging people to volunteer as firefighters, ambulance workers or police reserves, and also in controlling costs. But it said that didn’t justify treating similar groups differently.
State courts: http://www.courts.state.co.us
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