Officer Wins Stress Claim For Off-Duty Shooting

Chris White was employed full time by the Lexington-Fayette Urban County, Kentucky Government Police Department and part time as a security guard at Fayette Mall, an indoor commercial shopping center. On January 5, 2001, White completed his shift for the Department and reported to his security guard job. Approximately one hour into that job, White received a call from a police dispatcher regarding a male subject at the mall. White was advised that the subject was dressed in a security guard uniform and carrying a nightstick. The subject had reportedly threatened to commit suicide.

As White approached the subject, he noticed a revolver. White drew a gun, displayed his police badge, and identified himself as a police officer. After some conversation, the subject drew his gun. White commanded the subject to drop the gun, but instead the subject raised the gun and pointed it at White.

White initially fired four shots, hitting the subject three times. When the subject continued to advance towards White, White fired four more times before the subject fell to the ground. White then administered first aid to the subject, including CPR. The subject later died as a result of the gunshot wounds, and suicide notes were discovered in the subject’s vehicle.

As per the Police Department’s normal procedures, White was placed on administrative leave during an internal investigation. For some unexplained reason, the subject’s blood was never tested, and White was forced to undergo repeated blood tests to determine if he had contracted any diseases through his contact with bodily fluids of the subject.

White began to experience nightmares, flashbacks, and paranoia regarding a potential indictment for the shooting incident and the uncertainty of whether he had contracted diseases such as AIDS and tuberculosis. When White’s psychological condition worsened, he filed a workers’ compensation claim for post-traumatic stress (PTSD). Five separate doctors concluded that White suffered from PTSD and that he should not return to work as an officer.

When White’s workers’ compensation claim was dismissed by the Kentucky Workers’ Compensation Board, he appealed to the Kentucky Court of Appeals. The Court reversed the Board, and approved White’s claim.

The Court was required to deal with a Kentucky statute that specified that a compensable injury “shall not include a psychological, psychiatric, or stress-related change in the human organism, unless it is a direct result of a physical injury.”

The Court found that the facts presented by White established that such a physical injury occurred. The Court noted that “the traumatic event experienced by White involved relatively brief physical contact with the suspect, but the nature of the physical contact was extremely physical and intimate. Following the terrifying fatal encounter where White was compelled to fire eight shots at the subject hitting him numerous times at close range before he finally fell, White undertook the physical task of personally administering CPR and first aid, becoming mired in the man’s blood and bodily fluids. This event most assuredly involved physical trauma.”

The Court held that “White had a brief but seriously intimate physical encounter with a criminal suspect. While White did not suffer scratches or abrasions, he endured the physical impact of being coated with bodily fluids with a threat of much more serious health consequences than scratches and abrasions. We conclude that an event of such tangible and significant physical contact constitutes physical trauma.”

A dissenting judge, while acknowledging that White’s situation was “sympathetic,” argued that there was no evidence that White actually suffered any physical “injury.”

White v. Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government, 2005 WL 1250304 (Ky.App. 2005).

This article appears in the July 2005 issue