The Public Eye

The Public Eye: Sacramento County halts worker's comp to injured deputy

Published: Sunday, Jul. 28, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Monday, Jul. 29, 2013 - 8:15 am

Sacramento County has stopped paying workers' compensation to the lone survivor of a 2005 sheriff's helicopter crash, which then-Sheriff Lou Blanas called the worst tragedy in the history of the department.

According to federal investigators, engine failure caused the helicopter to crash and tumble down a hill north of Lake Natoma, killing two deputies, Joseph Kievernagel and Kevin Blount, and critically injuring another deputy, Eric Henrikson.

The crash ended the career of Henrikson, who was 28 years old and had been with the department for eight years.

After paying Henrikson a total of $2 million in workers' compensation since the accident, the county in May stopped its $3,657 monthly payments and his medical coverage.

The reason, said county Director of Personnel Services David Devine, is that Henrikson settled a federal court case against the helicopter manufacturer, Turbomeca, for $26 million.

Under state law, employers paying workers' compensation can receive credit when an injured employee receives a financial settlement from a third party, he said.

But the county's actions violate an agreement between the county and Henrikson, said David Mastagni, Henrikson's attorney. As part of Henrikson's lawsuit against Turbomeca, the county sought to place a lien against any financial award received by Henrikson.

The county eventually gave up on the lien, agreeing it "permanently waives any and all lien rights and/or other rights of recovery that it might have against the plaintiffs' settlement recoveries herein," according to an order signed by the judge in 2008.

The agreement called for the county to recover its losses through a separate federal lawsuit against Turbomeca. The county settled that claim in May 2012 for $1.5 million.

"The county is showing no regard for police officers injured in the line of duty," Mastagni said.

Devine said the county is following state law. He also said there's a difference in what the county requested in the lien and what it's doing now. The lien called for Henrikson to give up part of his settlement, while the county's recent action is a stoppage of compensation payments, Devine said.

The county has asked the state Workers' Compensation Appeals Board to formally give the county credit for Henrikson's settlement with Turbomeca, thereby relieving the county of future payments. The county filed the petition with the state board in May.

"It's a difficult situation," Devine said. "We did all we could to provide the best care for Eric. It was a very tough time for the county. We also lost two county employees."

The county followed its regular practice in Henrikson's case, reviewing the settlement to see if it constituted a second form of workers' compensation, a violation of the law, he said.

Mastagni, meanwhile, has filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court, asking the court to uphold the previous court order he says precludes the county from stopping the compensation payments.

Call The Bee's Brad Branan, (916) 321-1065. Follow him on Twitter @bradb_at_sacbee.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

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