Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Section 207-c line of duty disability not available for disability resulting from an “off-duty” injury

Section 207-c line of duty disability not available for disability resulting from an “off-duty” injury
Wynne v Town of Ramapo, 286 A.D.2d 338

Contending that he was injured in the line of duty, Town of Ramapo police officer William Wynne applied for disability benefits pursuant to Section 207-c of the General Municipal Law. Section 207-c provides certain benefits, including the continuation of their full salary, to law enforcement personnel absent from work because of a disability incurred while performing their official duties.

Wynne conceded that he had injured his hand while off-duty and on vacation. Wynne said that he was driving through a nearby town at the time. Stopped by a resident who knew he was a police officer, he was asked to rescue an infant that accidentally locked himself in the car.

Unable to secure the assistance of the local police, Wynne called the Town of Ramapo police dispatcher. The dispatcher, after speaking with a supervisor, advised Wynne there were no Ramapo patrol cars available and that he was not authorized to break the car window.

Notwithstanding this instruction, Wynne, with the car owner's permission, used a hammer to break a window to free the child. In so doing, Wynne injured his hand.

Wynne testified that he was aware that, other than in high-speed pursuits, the regulations of the police department of the Town of Ramapo required him to obtain permission to take any police action outside of the jurisdiction of the Town of Ramapo.
A hearing officer confirmed a determination by the Ramapo Chief of the Police denying Wynne Section 207-c benefits. Wynne appealed, only to have his petition rejected by the Appellate Division.

The Appellate Division ruled that the determination that Wynne was not acting as a police officer in breaking the window to free the child, and thus, was not entitled to benefits pursuant to General Municipal Law Section 207-c, was rational and was supported by substantial evidence in the record.

In another “off-duty” police officer injury situation, the Attorney General concluded that “a City is not responsible, under Section 207-c of the General Municipal Law, for payment of salary or medical expenses to a police officer who is injured while he is off-duty and working as a security guard for a private employer. (Informal Opinion of the Attorney General, 81-52).

The fact that “the police officer was making an arrest at the time of his injury” did not persuade the Attorney General to the contrary regarding the City's obligation to proved Section 207-c benefits. However, the opinion noted that in some instances, such as an injury resulting from the arrest of a person under a warrant, and unrelated to the performance of his or her “off-duty” work, Section 207-c might apply.

In contrast, in Alifieris v American Airlines, 63 NY2d 370, the Court of Appeals ruled that an off-duty police officer who is sued as a result of his or her official actions, even if he or she acted outside the employing police agency's geographical jurisdiction, is entitled to indemnification if held liable for damages as a result of such off-duty conduct.

The Alifieris case involved an off-duty Suffolk County police officer who was sued by Alifieris for an alleged assault which had taken place in Brooklyn, New York. Cooper claimed that he was acting as a police officer at the time. Suffolk County had argued Cooper could not get indemnification because he was off-duty and outside Suffolk County's jurisdiction at the time the assault was alleged to have occurred.

However, the courts have noted that police officer's conduct, as with any employee, that "is brought on by a matter wholly personal in nature, the source of which is not job-related ... cannot be said to fall within the scope of his employment." [See Stavitz v City of New York, 98 AD2d 529.]

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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 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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