Concluding that police officers cannot do their jobs if they cannot “smell out” crime, a Pennsylvania appellate court agreed that a police officer was totally disabled as a result of his losing his sense of smell in a Pennsylvania motorcycle accident.
The police officer was badly injured in a motorcycle accident while off duty. The personal injuries resulted in his losing his sense of smell. The officer returned to work after passing a physical, but the examining physician never asked about, or tested the officer’s sense of smell. After resuming his duties, township officials learned he had no sense of smell, and issued an “honorable discharge,” effectively firing him.
When the officer objected, the township held a hearing and presented the testimony of an expert in law enforcement employment. Law enforcement expert testified that police officers must be fully able to smell in order to quickly respond to fires, hazardous material spills, and natural gas and propane leaks. The expert also noted that first responders to DUI and drug violations regularly use their sense of smell. All of these events require instant action.
The lawyer for the injured officer argued that the officer could detect a DUI by observing the walk and behavior of a driver, and that he could observe fuel and gas emergencies by seeing smoke and by depending on visual cues. The officer testified that no other officers had complained about his lack of sense of smell and suggested that there were other duties he could perform without being dismissed.
One fellow officer noted that the injured officer was the first on the scene of a DUI accident but was not able to smell alcohol on the unconscious driver, while the fellow officer noted it right away. Another witness described an incident in which the injured officer assisted an elderly resident with her malfunctioning furnace by adjusting it and restarting it. Had the furnace malfunction been related to a gas leak, the injured officer’s restarting the furnace might have caused a destructive explosion.
The Pennsylvania township hearing board upheld the discharge, and the injured officer lost on appeal.