Thursday, October 06, 2011

Employer's liability for employee’s off-duty conduct

Employer's liability for employee’s off-duty conduct
Perez v City of New York, App. Div., 1st Dept., Docket #1973

In Donahue v Young, Appellate Division, Second Department, Docket 2001-09542, the court held that a municipal employer was not liable under the doctrine of respondent superior[1] when one of its firefighters, while off duty, assisted in extinguishing a fire and in the course providing such assistance, injured a third party. However, the Perez ruling suggests that the courts may view this type of situation differently when the employee in question is a police officer.

In essence, the doctrine "respondeat superior" embraces the concept that the employer is responsible for the actions of its employees.

In the process of making an arrest while off-duty, a New York City police officer, shot and killed an innocent bystander. While not specifically holding that the City was liable for the police officer's action, the Appellate Division did say that the fact that the officer was making an arrest was in and of itself enough to raise a "triable issue" as to whether the City was liable under the theory respondent superior.

The court indicated that "there were substantiated complaints pre-dating the shooting of Perez lodged against the police officer with the Civilian Complaint Review Board." Accordingly, said the Appellate Division, there were issues of fact as to whether the City negligently trained the officer and, or, negligently retained him in its employ.

The Legislature has often provided special benefits for law enforcement and firefighting personnel. For example, Article 14 of the New York State Civil Service Law provide unionized firemen and unionized police the right to interest arbitration regarding terms and conditions of employment whereby other unionized public employees do not. Also, both law enforcement and firefighting personnel enjoy eligibility for special benefits under Sections 207-a and 207-c of the General Municipal Law if they are injured in the course of their employment.

As in Donahue, the police officer was performing a duty he would otherwise perform if officially on duty in the course of which a third party was injured or otherwise harmed. While the Court did not affirmatively decide that the City was culpable, it is clearly stating that there is a legitimate question as to whether the doctrine of respondeat superior applied.

New York State courts have long held that police officers are legitimately held to a higher standard than other public employees for the purposes of discipline. This decision suggests that a law enforcement agency may also be held to a higher standard than other public employers when one of its officers causes an injury to someone while the employee was off duty.

[1] In essence, the doctrine "respondeat superior" expresses the concept that the employer is responsible for the actions of its employees performed in the course of their regular duties.

Handbooks focusing on State and Municipal Public Personnel Law continue to be available for purchase via the links provided below:

The Discipline Book at http://thedisciplinebook.blogspot.com/

Challenging Adverse Personnel Decisions at http://nypplarchives.blogspot.com

The Disability Benefits E-book: at http://section207.blogspot.com/

Layoff, Preferred Lists at http://nylayoff.blogspot.com/

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