Former Idaho Police Officer Awarded $717,000

December 28, 2011

A former officer with the Fort Hall Police Department who was injured when his patrol vehicle was hit by another vehicle has been awarded $717,000 by a Pocatello jury in a lawsuit over an American Indian tribe’s underinsured motorist insurance policy.

But Nicolas Garcia says he wishes he was still working, rather than receiving the insurance payout.

“I would rather have continued to be a police officer than to have those numbers,” he said. “I would rather be out there on those streets with my brothers in blue than have that money. Every day I woke up excited about going to work. Every day it was exciting to get ready to go in as it was that very first day.”

The Idaho State Journal reports that the jury last week awarded Garcia $210,757 in lost wages, $206,179 for future lost wages, and $300,000 for noneconomic damages.

In September 2007, Garcia was driving home in his patrol car when he was hit by another car that failed to yield at a stop sign. He suffered a career-ending injury to his back, which had already undergone a previous fusion surgery.

After the crash, Garcia underwent additional fusions with the goal of returning to work, but those procedures weren’t enough to get him back on patrol. “I am thankful I am walking,” he said. “I was having trouble walking, sitting, standing, laying. Carrying a gallon of milk would hurt.”

Garcia’s case involved the underinsured motorist who hit him, a worker’s compensation claim, and Granite State Insurance, which is the underinsured policy provider for Shoshone-Bannock Tribes.

Garcia’s attorney, Joel Beck, a partner at Ruchti & Beck in Pocatello said the jury was asked to decide if Garcia deserved compensation for lost wages, future lost wages and noneconomic damages.

“It had multiple components to it,” Beck said. “It’s actually quite unique for an underinsured claim to be decided by a jury. They will usually be decided by an arbitrator because it’s either part of the policy or both parties agree to go that route.”

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