About six moths later Village told Firefighter that it was discontinuing his disability benefits. Firefighter appealed that decision, eventually resulting in a determination that he was entitled to General Municipal Law §207-a(1) benefits. While his administrative appeal was pending*Firefighter was granted performance-of-duty disability retirement benefits pursuant to Retirement and Social Security Law §363-c and retired.
The Village stopped paying Firefighter any benefits. Including “supplemental benefits” equal to the difference between his retirement allowance and his “full salary” as a firefighter. Firefighter asked Village pay him such supplemental disability benefits as authorized by General Municipal Law §207-a(2).
Ultimately the Appellate Division was presented with the issue: Does General Municipal Law §207-a provides one unified set of benefits, or are different and separate benefits are provided for under the different subdivisions of that statute.
The Appellate Division ruled that although the subdivisions provide for benefits that are different based on the qualifications, amounts and standards or requirements to obtain or retain them, the statute intends to provide for one unified set of benefits for the payment of salary to firefighters injured in the performance of duty.
In the words of the court: “Despite the differences between the subdivisions, the end result under their respective different scenarios is for the injured firefighter to receive his or her full regular salary.” Payment of the individual’s full regular salary is the benefit regardless of whether the firefighter is temporarily unable to work (General Municipal Law §207-a(1)], permanently unable to work and retired on that basis (General Municipal Law §207-a(2)], or unable to perform his or her regular duties but able to perform specified types of light duty (General Municipal Law §207-a(3)].”**
However, the Appellate Division said that although the benefits provided for in General Municipal Law §207-a are one unified benefit, an employer is not collaterally estopped from denying or considering if the firefighter is qualified to receive permanent supplemental benefits pursuant to General Municipal Law §207-a(2) based on the prior determination that he or she was entitled to temporary benefits under General Municipal Law §207-a(1).
The court explained that the standards and requirements to qualify for the benefits provided for under these two subdivisions are different. Subdivision (1) sets out the benefits to be paid to firefighters injured in the performance of duty until the municipality's health authorities certify that he or she is recovered and able to perform regular duties of his or her position.
As the Court of Appeals held in Park, such disabled firefighters have a property interest in disability payments pursuant to General Municipal Law §207-a, giving rise to procedural due process protection before those payments may be terminated.
Here, said the Appellate Division, Firefighter submitted evidence of permanent disability related to his work-related injury, raising "a genuine dispute on operative facts" such that he is entitled to a hearing on the deprivation of his benefits by the Village and since Firefighter was already receiving benefits under the statute, he is entitled to due process "before those payments are terminated," he is entitled to a continuation of benefits pending the hearing.
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.