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May 26, 2016

Applicant for performance of duty disability retirement benefits must show that his or her disability was the result of an act of an inmate


Applicant for performance of duty disability retirement benefits must show that his or her disability was the result of an act of an inmate
Traxler v DiNapoli, 2016 NY Slip Op 03949, Appellate Division, Third Department

Sheila Traxler, a correction officer, applied for performance of duty disability retirement benefits alleging that she was permanently incapacitated due to work-related injuries sustained when a self-closing gate struck her after an inmate accidentally let go of it while Traxler was standing in the doorway.

Traxler’s application was initially denied by the Retirement System and she requested a hearing and redetermination. Following the hearing, the Hearing Officer sustained the denial of Traxler’s application for duty disability retirement holding that Traxler "failed to establish that her injuries were the result of an act of an inmate." The Comptroller accepted the findings and conclusions of the Hearing Officer and denied Traxler’s appeal. Traxler appealed the Comptroller's decision.

Citing Retirement and Social Security Law §607-c[a],* the Appellate Division annulled the Comptroller’s decision. The court explained that Traxler bore the burden of demonstrating that the incident in which she sustained her injuries was "the natural and proximate result of any act of any inmate." All that is required, said the court, is that the applicant for duty disability retirement show that his or her injuries “were caused by direct interaction with an inmate."

While Traxler did not believe that the inmate intended to injure her, she was injured as the result of the inmate disobeying Traxler’s instruction to remain where she was standing. Under these circumstances, said the court, there is no evidentiary basis in the record to conclude that [Traxler’s] injuries did not occur contemporaneously with, and flowed directly, naturally and proximately from, the inmate's’ disobedient and affirmative actions.

Accordingly, the Appellate Division ruled that Traxler’s injury was a natural and proximate result of an act of an inmate and remitted the matter to the Retirement System “for further proceedings on the issue of the permanency of [Traxler’s] alleged disability.”

In contrast to the ruling in Traxler, in Palmateer v DiNapoli, 117 AD3d 1228 [motion for leave to appeal denied, 24 NY3d 901], the Appellate Division rejected a correction officer’s appeal of the denial of his application for duty disability retirement, holding that “[a]ny connection between his injuries and the inmate conduct here is too attenuated to form a basis for an award of performance of duty disability retirement benefits.”

Lawrence Palmateer, a correction officer, had applied for duty disability retirement benefits pursuant to Retirement and Social Security Law §507-b.** The record indicated that Palmateer was seated at a desk when he heard a commotion in the shower room that he believed to be an altercation between inmates. Getting up from his desk “his right knee gave out, causing him to fall.”

Although it was uncontroverted that Palmateer was permanently incapacitated from performing the duties of a correction officer, the Appellate Division said that it did not agree with Palmateer’s contention that the injuries he suffered “responding to a potential emergency involving inmates” were the natural and proximate result of an act of an inmate.

* §607-c[a], Performance of duty disability benefit, provides, in pertinent part, that “Any sheriff, deputy sheriff, undersheriff or correction officer as defined in subdivision a of section sixty-three-b of this chapter, and who are employed in a county which makes an election pursuant to subdivision d of such section sixty-three-b, who becomes physically or mentally incapacitated for the performance of duties as the natural and proximate result of an injury, sustained in the performance or discharge of his or her duties by, or as the natural and proximate result of any act of any inmate or any person confined in an institution under the jurisdiction of such county, shall be paid a performance of duty disability retirement allowance equal to that which is provided in section sixty-three of this chapter, subject to the provisions of section sixty-four of this chapter.”

** §507-c, Performance of duty disability retirement, applies to the uniformed personnel serving in institutions under the jurisdiction of the New York City Department of Correction.

The Traxler decision is posted on the Internet at:

ThePalmateer decision is posted on the Internet at:
http://www.nycourts.gov/reporter/3dseries/2014/2014_03322.htm

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The Disability Benefits E-book: - This e-book focuses on disability benefits available to officers and employees in public service pursuant to Civil Service Law §§71, 72 and 73, General Municipal Law §207-a and §207-c, the Retirement and Social Security Law, the Workers’ Compensation Law, and similar provisions of law. For more information click on: http://booklocker.com/3916.html
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Disability Leave for fire, police and other public sector personnel - A 1098 page e-book focusing on disability benefits available to public officers and employees employed by New York State and its political subdivisions. For more information click on http://booklocker.com/books/3916.html