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June 4, 2012

Recipient of workers' compensation benefits may not sue his or her employer “in its landlord role”

Recipient of workers' compensation benefits may not sue his or her employer “in its landlord role”
Weiner v City of New York, 2012 NY Slip Op 04207, Court of Appeals

Mark Weiner was employed by the New York City Fire Department as an Emergency Medical Technician. Injured in the course of his performing his duties, he applied for, and received, workers' compensation benefits from his employer - the City of New York.

Weiner subsequently sued the City and the New York City Parks and Recreation Department alleging both “common law negligence and a cause of action under General Municipal Law §205-a.” According to Weiner, the City-maintained boardwalk was poorly illuminated, resulting in his being injured.

The Appellate Division, reversing a Supreme Court ruling to the contrary, held that Weiner's action was barred by his receipt of workers' compensation benefits and that he could not sue the City “in its landlord role.”

The Court of Appeals, citing Gonzales v Armac Indus., 81 NY2d 1, sustained the Appellate Division’s decision, commenting that worker’s compensation benefits are "[t]he sole and exclusive remedy of an employee against his employer for injuries in the course of employment."

The Court explained that "In exchange for the security of knowing that fixed benefits will be paid without the need to resort to expensive and sometimes risky litigation, … the employee has been asked to pay a price in the form of the loss of his [or her] common-law right to sue his [or her] employer in tort and perhaps to enjoy a more substantial recovery through a jury award."

In the words of the court: “Weiner's principal argument relies on a difference in wording between General Municipal Law § 205-a (pertaining to firefighters) and General Municipal Law §205-e (pertaining to police officers). Section 205-e contains the same statement found in §205-a that the cause of action created by the statute exists "[i]n addition to any other right of action or recovery under any other provision of law" (General Municipal Law §205-e [1]).

However, said the Court, in addition §205-e explicitly provides that "nothing in this section shall be deemed to expand or restrict any right afforded to or limitation imposed upon an employer, an employee or his or her representative by virtue of any provisions of the workers' compensation law."

Although Weiner argued that the omission of this §205-e language concerning workers' compensation law in §205-a was deliberate, the Court said that it disagreed, holding that “Had the Legislature intended to give firefighters, but not police officers, the right to sue as well as receive workers' compensation benefits, this distinction, we are certain, would have been evident in the legislative history.” Rather, concluded the court, “it was not the intent of the Legislature to allow recipients of workers' compensation benefits to sue their employers in tort under §205-a.”*

Noting that it was not addressing the question of whether emergency medical technicians who are employed by fire departments and are not recipients of workers' compensation benefits are entitled to the right of action provided by §205-a, or whether the right of action is limited to firefighters, the Court noted that it has “long refused to condone the circumvention of the Workers' Compensation scheme by means of a theory that would allow an employer to be sued in its capacity as property owner.”

Here, said the court, “[a]n employer remains an employer in [its] relations with [its] employees as to all matters arising from and connected with their employment" and Weiner's injuries arose from and were connected with his employment as an emergency medical technician.

* See the Governor's "Approval Memorandum" in the "bill jacket" of Chapter 703 of the Laws of 1996.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:


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