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Amherst wins $112,000 as it pursues lawsuits over injuries to officers

When Officer Jonathan Klein was injured trying to arrest a suspected drunk driver in 2012, the Town  of Amherst paid nearly $112,000 in wages and medical expenses before he returned to work 13 months later.

Now the town is collecting that amount from the driver, who is insured.

Amherst also is trying to collect from others who were involved in incidents that sidelined four other police officers.

Among the injured is Officer Corey Brown, who  suffered spine injuries when responding to a shoplifting incident at the Walmart on Sheridan Drive in 2014. Brown has yet to return to work and may file for disability retirement from the Police Department, Town Attorney Stanley J. Sliwa said.

The lawsuits are allowed under municipal law and typically are covered by the defendants' insurance providers, Sliwa said.

"This is standard operating procedure," he said.

In the case of Klein, another officer had pulled over a tow truck operated by Man Siu, of Amherst, on Oct. 21, 2012, when that original officer called for backup, Sliwa said. Klein responded and pursued Siu on foot. Klein injured his back when both men went to the ground during Klein's attempt to take Siu into custody, Sliwa said.

Siu was charged with felony assault, attempted escape, obstructing governmental administration, driving while ability impaired, a breath test violation and a lane violation, according to Town Court records. He pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct and received a conditional discharge, the records show.

Klein didn't have surgery for his back injury, but he did undergo physical therapy and rehabilitation, Sliwa said, and he was out of work until November 2013.

The town is obligated under state law to cover the wages and medical expenses of an officer injured in the line of duty, but the same law allows the town to try to recover those payments from the party that caused the injuries, Sliwa said.

The town filed suit against Siu in State Supreme Court in December 2013. The $111,828 settlement was reached recently and the Town Board approved it.

Klein and his wife, Amanda, also have a lawsuit against Siu pending in State Supreme Court. They seek $2.5 million in damages, according to a document filed with the Erie County Clerk's Office.

Jerry Mackey, Siu's attorney and a partner with Barclay Damon, said he couldn't comment on the settlement because the Kleins' lawsuit remains active.

Sliwa said the town has four pending lawsuits involving injured police officers. Two of the officers have returned to work, Brown remains out and Sliwa was uncertain about the status of the fourth.

The most notable is the case involving Brown, who continues to recover from injuries suffered when a police cruiser driven by a colleague struck Brown in the Walmart parking lot at Sheridan Drive and Bailey Avenue on Nov. 22, 2014.

Brown was off-duty at the time but happened to be nearby and heard the call about a shoplifting report on his radio. Ronald M. Kerling, then 33, of Glenwood Avenue in Buffalo, ignored officers’ orders to stop after leaving the store and managed to get into his pickup truck following a struggle.

Officer Bradley Canzoneri leaned into the pickup through the driver’s side and held on for about 50 yards before he fell out of the truck. He suffered injuries to his wrist and leg while being dragged and then bounced off shopping carts in the lot. He was treated and released from a hospital.

Brown spent a month at Erie County Medical Center.

The town filed suit in January against Walmart and Kerling, who pleaded guilty in 2015 to attempted assault on a police officer and attempted second-degree assault and serving time at Attica Correctional Facility.

The town's suit, filed in January, argues Walmart was negligent in training its employees to deal with shoplifters and that Walmart employees that night did not follow company procedures in the investigation, apprehension and detention of shoplifter. As a result, the lawsuit says, Brown suffered serious injuries as a result.

Brown's injuries included a cervical spine fracture, spinal dislocation, injuries to the spinal discs and to the spinal cord, according to the lawsuit.

Walmart has not responded to the town's lawsuit, but it has replied to the suit brought by Brown and his wife, Marjorie, against Walmart and Kerling. In that case, the company through its attorneys, Brown Hutchinson LLP of Rochester, argues it was not responsible for the accident nor any injuries Brown suffered.

The company contends that the "plaintiff, through the exercise of reasonable care, would have averted his injuries/damages" and "the alleged accident was caused by plaintiff's own violation and disregard of applicable policies and practices of the Town of Amherst Police Department, his employer."

Finally, the company pins the blame for the accident on Kerling's actions that night.

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