A correction officer’s work-related injury must be caused by direct interaction with an inmate in order to qualify for RSSL §507-b disability retirement benefits
Laurino v DiNapoli, 2015 NY Slip Op 07327, Appellate Division, Third Department
Helena T. Laurino, a correction officer, worked in the Regional Medical Unit at Fishkill Correctional Facility. When an inmate informed her that another inmate was having a seizure, she investigated and found the inmate walking in a daze. When Laurino and a nurse “slowly lowered him to the floor, he went limp and started to fall.”
Although the inmate did not struggle or strike Laurino while she was holding on to him, she, nevertheless, injured her right shoulder while guiding his fall. As a result of this incident, she filed an application for performance of duty disability retirement benefits pursuant to Retirement and Social Security Law §507-b.
Laurino’s application was denied by the NYS Employees' Retirement System on the ground that her injury was not the result of an act of an inmate. Following a hearing, a Hearing Officer agreed and recommended that Laurino's application be denied. The Comptroller accepted the Hearing Officer's recommendation and issued a final determination denying her benefits.
The Appellate Division affirmed the Comptroller’s decision, noting that Retirement and Social Security Law §507-b (a) provides for performance of duty disability retirement benefits to correction officers employed by the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision who are unable to perform their job duties "as the natural and proximate result of an injury, sustained in the performance or discharge of [their] duties by, or as a natural and proximate result of, an act of an inmate."
While the statute does not specifically define an "act of an inmate," the court said that the legislative history reveals that "the statute was clearly intended to compensate correction officers who, because of the risks created by their 'daily contact with certain persons who are dangerous [and] profoundly antisocial' . . . become permanently disabled."
The Appellate Division explained that, in accordance with this intent, courts have construed the language to require that the injuries be caused by direct interaction with an inmate in order to qualify for benefits under the statute.
Although Laurino contended that she had direct interaction with the inmate while she was lowering him to the floor during his seizure, citing Esposito v Hevesi, 30 AD3d 667, the court pointed out that in analogous circumstances where a correction officer was injured while assisting an incapacitated inmate during a medical emergency, it held that the "inmate was not engaged in any act that was a proximate cause of [Esposito's] . . . injury."
The Appellate Division ruled that substantial evidence in the record supported the Comptroller’s denial of Laurino‘s application on the basis that her injuries were not the result of an act of an inmate within the meaning of Retirement and Social Security Law §507-b, explaining that it perceived no meaningful distinction between this case and the ruling in Esposito v Hevesi.
The decision is posted on the Internet at:
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