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Comp claims denied for off-duty California deputies injured in Las Vegas shooting

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Off-duty law enforcement officers from California who responded to the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history in Nevada may not receive workers compensation benefits because their injuries occurred out of state, but an attorney representing some of the officers predicted the courts will ultimately decide whether they are entitled to benefits.

Workers comp claims for four off-duty, injured sheriffs deputies in Orange County, California, who helped respond to the mass shooting in Las Vegas on Oct. 1 were denied Monday, the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs confirmed on Tuesday.

At issue is the interpretation of California’s labor code that states municipalities are required to cover workers comp claims that arise when an off-duty officer engages “in the protection or preservation of life or property, or the preservation of the peace anywhere in this state” even if the officer is “not at the time acting under the immediate direction of (the) employer.”

That the law does not mention out-of-state tragedies is a point of contention, said Tom Dominguez, president of the association based in Santa Ana, California. “If the incident had occurred in (California) it would not be an issue,” he said, adding that not helping in emergency situations goes against what is taught in training.

“It runs the gamut of the responsibility peace officers have; the responsibility is to take action when appropriate,” he said. “Our department believes that if you are capable you should take action.”

The men employed by the Orange County Sheriffs Department are not alone; dozens of other deputies with other departments in California were at the Route 91 Harvest music festival when a gunman fired into the crowd from the nearby Mandalay Bay hotel and casino, killing 59 people and wounding 546, according to Las Vegas law enforcement reports.

The San Bernardino Sheriffs Department had 11 of its officers on the scene, one of whom was shot while assisting injured concertgoers, according to the Sheriff’s Employees’ Benefit Association in San Bernardino. A County of San Bernardino spokesman said Tuesday that no workers comp claims have been filed.

Yet a San Bernardino union spokeswoman issued this statement, cautioning that the association does not get involved in workers comp claims: “SEBA has advocated for (the deputy’s) injuries to be classified as ‘on-duty,’ since he was injured while he performed life-saving actions during this horrific event. His law enforcement training kicked in and he acted in his capacity as a peace officer in regard to helping others who were present.”

Several Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department deputies were also on the scene at the time; the Orange County Register reported Tuesday that at least two were shot. Officials with the County of Los Angeles did not return phone calls on Tuesday.

Efforts to contact Orange County officials were also unsuccessful.

Meanwhile, the Orange County Board of Supervisors will be discussing plans on Oct. 31 to create a “discretionary award” to assist the injured deputies and others who respond to emergencies out of state, according to a memorandum issued by supervisors Todd Spitzer and Shawn Nelson on Oct. 20.

But the workers comp issue is likely to remain, according to an attorney with the union representing the deputies in Orange County, one of whom is recovering from a gunshot wound.

“The area is fairly untested,” said John Ferrone, a partner with West Lake Village, California-based Adams, Ferrone & Ferrone P.L.C., which represents the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs. “It’s a complex set of laws.

“I don’t think there has ever been a situation that fits this scenario,” he added, saying the issue is likely to be litigated given the ambiguity in the law. “We’re talking about deputies than went into the line of fire to help out.”