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Friday, December 28, 2012

Pension Fund permitted to credit report of the scene were the alleged accident occurred made at the time of the event over a description of the scene made two years later


Pension Fund permitted to credit report of the scene were the alleged accident occurred made at the time of the event over a description of the scene made two years later
Lang v Kelly, 2012 NY Slip Op 08788, Appellate Division, First Department
 
Board of Trustees of Police Pension Fund of Police Dept. of City of New York, by a tie vote, rejected Jean Lang’s application for accidental disability retirement benefits.

Supreme Court dismissed Lang’s Article 78 petition challenging the rejection of her application and the Appellate Division affirmed the lower court’s ruling. The Appellate Division held that Lang “failed to demonstrate as a matter of law that her injury was the result of an accident, i.e., a sudden, unexpected, out of the ordinary event, rather than a misstep during the routine performance of her job.”

According to the decision, Lang was injured when she tripped over computer wires extending across the threshold of the doorway between two rooms. In a statement made contemporaneously with the accident, Lang indicated that the wires were "exposed."

Two years later, however, Lang submitted a statement indicating that the wires had initially been secured to the floor with duct tape and that the tape was removed on the day she fell.

The Appellate Division held that the Pension Fund was entitled to credit Lang's contemporaneous account and reject her more recent statement that the condition of the wires changed on the day of the accident, explaining that the Fund “reasonably inferred that, since the wires had been in place for several months before [Lang’s] fall, she must have been aware of them and routinely stepped over them.

Another case illustrating the importance of a comprehensive physical description of the scene where the event occurred in the initial accident report is Slagle v McCall, 293 AD2d 923.

John K. Slagle, a firefighter, was injured while responding to a fire. According to the decision, the incident report and application for accidental disability retirement filed by Slagle both indicated that as he stepped over a downed chain link fence his boot caught on the fallen fence, causing him to fall.

Slagle, however, testified at his disability hearing before the Retirement System that he was unaware of the fallen fence because it was hidden in tall grass and weeds. Significantly, said the court, no mention of "tall grass and weeds" was noted in either Slagle's incident report or his application for accidental disability retirement benefits.

Slagle argued that his encounter with the fence and his subsequent fall constituted an accident since it was "sudden and unexpected." The Comptroller, however, concluded that Slagle's injury was the result of a misstep as he attempted to step over the fallen fence and that, therefore, he did not sustain an accident within the meaning of the Retirement and Social Security Law. The Appellate Division sustained the Comptroller's determination.

The court said that assuming that Slagle's testimony that he was unaware of the fence was sufficient to demonstrate an accident, "neither the accident report filed by [Slagle] shortly after the injury nor his application for benefits contained any reference to tall grass, weeds or the hidden nature of the fallen fence."

The court found that incident report and disability retirement application form submitted by Slagle provided the substantial evidence necessary to support the Comptroller's finding that "Slagle's fall was caused by his misstep or miscalculation in attempting to step over the fallen fence while engaged in the performance of his ordinary employment duties."

Thus, said the court, "there is no basis to disturb the Comptroller's conclusion that [Slagle] did not sustain an accident."

Clearly including references to "tall grass and weeds" hiding the downed fence might not have guaranteed approval of Slagle's application for accidental disability retirement benefits. However, the information he initially supplied in the incident report and in his application for benefits, despite his somewhat different testimony at the hearing, proved sufficient to allow the Comptroller to base his decision solely on the information contained in the incident report and Slagle's disability retirement application form.

The Lang decision is posted on the Internet at:


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General Municipal Law§§ 207-a and 207-c - a 1098 page e-book focusing on administering General Municipal Law Sections 207-a/207-c and providing benefits thereunder and other disability retirement issues is available from the Public Employment Law Press. Click on http://section207.blogspot.com/ for additional information about this electronic reference manual.


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Electronic books [e-books] focusing on New York State and Municipal Public Personnel Law:

The Discipline Book, - a concise guide to disciplinary actions involving public employees in New York State. A 1900+ page e-book. For more information click on http://booklocker.com/books/5215.html

The Layoff, Preferred List and Reinstatement Manual - a 645 page e-book reviewing the relevant laws, rules and regulations, and selected court and administrative decisions. For more information click on http://booklocker.com/books/5216.html

A Reasonable Disciplinary Penalty Under the Circumstances - A 600+ page guide to penalties imposed on public employees in New York State found guilty of selected acts of misconduct. For more information, click on http://nypplarchives.blogspot.com/

General Municipal Law§§ 207-a and 207-c - Disability Leave for fire, police and other public sector personnel - a 1098 page e-book focusing on administering General Municipal Law Sections 207-a/207-c and providing benefits thereunder. For more information click on http://booklocker.com/books/3916.html

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