Court Upholds Denial Of Death Benefits To Widow Of Police Officer

Richard Dawson was a police officer for Pennsauken Township, New Jersey. On September 7, 1974, while responding to a burglar alarm call, Officer Dawson lost control of his patrol vehicle on a wet roadway. His vehicle left the road and hit a metal sign pole.

Following the accident, Officer Dawson was transported to the hospital in critical condition. As a result of the accident, Officer Dawson suffered from multiple serious injuries, which left him a quadriplegic and confined him to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. Officer Dawson died as a result of his injuries on March 7, 1999. On May 1, 2002, Officer Dawson’s widow submitted an application for death benefits to the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) of the United States Department of Justice. When the BJA denied the application, Mrs. Dawson appealed to the Court of Federal Claims.

The Court upheld the denial of benefits. The Court noted that the Public Safety Officers Benefits Act (PSOBA), the law under which Mrs. Dawson sought benefits, had an express provision that it would only “become effective and apply to deaths occurring from injuries sustained on or after the date of enactment.” Since the PSOBA was enacted on December 29, 1976, two years after Officer Dawson was injured, the Court found that it was required to deny the application.

The Court found that “the language of the PSOBA is clear on its face and, under the plain language of the PSOBA, Ms. Dawson is not entitled to the benefits it provides. If the drafters of the PSOBA had intended for death benefits to be granted to survivors of public safety officers who were either injured or died on or after the date of enactment, the drafters could have clearly indicated such an intent. Instead, Congress focused the language of the statute specifically on the date of injury. As such, the BJA was correct in determining that Mrs. Dawson is not entitled to benefits under the PSOBA because her husband was injured before the PSOBA’s effective date.”

Dawson v. United States, 2007 WL 188636 (Fed.Cl. 2007).