Determining eligibility for accidental disability benefits
Mruczek v McCall, 299 AD2d 638,
Steven v McCall,**
Steven v McCall,**
The Mruczek Case:The Mruczek decision demonstrates the burden an individual has in proving that he or she is eligible for accidental disability benefits or line of duty disability benefits. The test to be met is difficult.
In the words of the Appellate Division, in order for an injury to be the result of an accident for the purposes of eligibility for [accidental] disability retirement benefits within the meaning of the Retirement and Social Security Law, it must "result from a `sudden, fortuitous mischance, unexpected, out of the ordinary and injurious in impact' and [be] unrelated to the ordinary risks of employment."
The Comptroller sustained ERS's rejection of Patrick M. Mruczek's applications for accidental, or in the alternative, performance of duty, disability retirement benefits.
Mruczek, a correction officer at the Attica correctional facility, claimed he was injured while at work when he fell over a "feed-up" cart as he proceeded to remove his lunch from a microwave oven. According to Mruczek, he was talking to the hall captain when he heard the bell on the microwave oven. Turning around to retrieve his meal, he fell over a feed-up cart that he alleged had been placed behind him by an inmate. Mruczek also testified that it was normal for inmates to use the feed-up carts and that it was not uncommon to see the carts in the block area in which the accident occurred.
The Employees' Retirement System [ERS] explained that it had rejected Mruczek's applications because the occurrence was neither (1) an accident nor (2) a result of the acts of an inmate. The Comptroller affirmed ERS's ruling; Mruczek appealed.
The Appellate Division held that "[u]nder these circumstances, the Comptroller could rationally conclude that [Mruczek's] injury occurred as a result of his misstep while he was engaged in a routine activity rather than a sudden, fortuitous and unexpected event."
The Stevens Case: In Stevens the Appellate Division, 3rd Department affirmed the Comptroller's decision that a Nassau County police officer, Gordon F. Stevens, did not qualify for accidental disability retirement benefits.
Stevens was the commanding officer of the County's Marine/Aviation Bureau. He injured his arm while he was assisting other officers engaged in launching a 36-foot patrol vessel weighing 30,000 pounds.
The Appellate Division said that "[c]rucial to the finding of an accident ... is `a precipitating accidental event ... which was not a risk of the work performed.'" Stevens contended that he was not engaged in a task he normally performed and he had never before participated in launching a boat. However, he also said that it was his job was to "make sure everything [got] done" and indicated that, because of the urgency of the situation, he physically assisted in launching the boat. In addition, a former commanding officer of the Bureau testified that it was the responsibility of the commanding officer to see to it that all functions of the Bureau were accomplished and this included physically assisting in the performance of certain tasks if necessary to fulfill this responsibility.
The court's conclusion: notwithstanding the fact that Stevens had not previously participated in launching the patrol boat, there was substantial evidence to support the Comptroller's finding that "it was a task inherent in [Stevens'] regular duties as commanding officer to carry out the functions of the Bureau" and, therefore, it declined to disturb the Comptroller's determination disapproving Steven's application.
**The decision is posted on the Internet at http://decisions.courts.state.ny.us/ad3/decisions/2002/91879.pdf