Commander Biden, the White House’s 4-legged occupant, can’t seem to keep his mouth to himself
Secret Service agents are eligible for workers’ comp benefits provided under FECA for being bitten by White House dog
A dog is said to be a person’s best friend. For many, this is the truth—and a dog’s unwavering loyalty and devotion brings comfort and joy to many pet owners.
But there are some problems afoot in the White House with President Biden’s dog, Commander, who is decidedly less friendly. The German shepherd was given as a gift to the president and his wife, Jill, in December 2021. While Commander is considered a family pet, he’s had some conflicts with the First Family’s Secret Service detail.
Commander bit several Secret Service agents a total of 10 times between October 2022 and January 2023. One agent was treated at a hospital for his injuries. There are apparently nearly 200 pages of written communication among officials and agents that discuss Commander’s aggressive behavior.
One incident happened while first lady Jill Biden was walking Commander in October 2022. Dr. Biden was unable to control him when he lunged at an agent. A few days later, Commander bit an officer on both the arm and the leg; the officer used a steel cart to shield himself from further attack. Just a month after that encounter, the president allowed Commander off leash in a garden on White House grounds, where the dog ran to an agent and bit them twice. The officer continued their shift, though President Biden was concerned about his condition.
This is not new, unfortunately. When President Biden took office in 2021, he brought along Champ, who died that year, and Major, who was young and had been rescued from a shelter. But Major had some aggression issues, too, and after a few bites, he was sent to live elsewhere.
Gerber & Holder Workers’ Compensation Attorneys
Workers experience many unexpected obstacles while performing their normal jobs. Sometimes there is absolutely no way to prepare for these incidents. A prime example of this are encounters with dogs while on the job. Sometimes they are hidden or may attack an individual completely and totally unprovoked. These attacks are covered under workers’ compensation and therefore all medical bills relating to injuries sustained by the attack are compensable. These injuries can range from a bit, to any and all injuries that occur as a result of either protecting oneself, or fleeing the situation.
Dog bites can be workplace injuries
A Secret Service spokesman has said that although it’s not the agents’ job to take care of or handle the pets, they are always looking to minimize risk in an environment that includes them.
The Bidens are working to correct the problems. They have consulted with Executive Residence staff and the Secret Service to develop additional training and leash protocols, and to set up designated spaces where the dog can run and play off-leash.
The Secret Service is handling agents’ dog bites as workplace injuries.
Secret Service agents are covered under the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act (FECA), like all federal employees. The benefits process is slightly different from traditional workers’ compensation, but an injured agent may file a workers’ comp claim through the Department of Labor Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs (OWCP).
Like other employees of private or public employers, an injured Secret Service agent can receive workers’ compensation benefits for wage replacement, medical treatment, and other costs.
Workers’ comp benefits provided under FECA
Secret service agents covered under FECA can receive the workers’ compensation benefits that include:
- Medical treatment. FECA would cover any reasonable and necessary medical expenses related to the workplace injury. This includes doctor visits, hospital visits, surgery, medication, rehabilitation or ongoing therapies, medical devices, and other items.
- Wage replacement. A Secret Service agent whose injury left them unable to work can typically receive ⅔ of their pre-injury average weekly wage (66.67%). This percentage can be adjusted for a permanent disability.
- Lump sum for permanent impairment. If the agent was left with permanent impairment like loss of a limb, vision, or hearing, they might receive a lump-sum payment called a “scheduled award” as compensation.
- Vocational rehabilitation. In the event that an agent can’t return to duty in their original role from prior to the injury, FECA offers training and services for them to return to work in an alternate role or find another type of job.
- Survivor benefits. If an agent dies from a work-related injury or illness, their eligible dependents can receive monthly monetary compensation and reimbursement for some funeral expenses.
Who’s at fault for the dog bites?
One of the principles of the workers’ compensation system is that the injured employee must only prove that the injury happened while at work or engaged in duties related to their job. Workers’ compensation does not require a finding of liability or fault to award benefits.
Another hallmark of workers’ compensation is that it precludes an employee from filing a lawsuit against their employer for the personal injury. Workers’ compensation is an exclusive remedy. If the worker believes the settlement offered does not cover the full extent of their expenses or is too low, they can file an appeal through the OWCP. A lawsuit might be appropriate and permitted only if the negligence of a third party (i.e. a party other than the employer) caused the injury.
Presently, Commander’s future is yet to be determined. There are no public reports that the White House is under pressure to rehome the pet, but they do acknowledge that the aggression is a problem and they’re taking measures to correct it.
A person who is injured by a dog at their place of work may be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits and should consult a qualified, experienced workers’ comp attorney to explore their legal options for financial recovery.