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November 22, 2016

A police officer eligible to receive General Municipal Law §207-c benefits may file a claim against his or her employer pursuant to General Municipal Law §205-e

A police officer eligible to receive General Municipal Law §207-c benefits may file a claim against his or her employer pursuant to General Municipal Law §205-e
Diegelman v City of Buffalo, 2016 NY Slip Op 07817, Court of Appeals

General Municipal Law §205-e gives a “Right of action to certain injured or representatives of certain deceased police officers.”

In pertinent part, subdivision 1 of §205-e provides that “In addition to any other right of action or recovery under any other provision of law, in the event any accident, causing injury, death or a disease which results in death, occurs directly or indirectly as a result of any neglect, omission, willful or culpable negligence of any person or persons in failing to comply with the requirements of any of the statutes, ordinances, rules, orders and requirements of the federal, state, county, village, town or city governments or of any and all their departments, divisions and bureaus, the person or persons guilty of said neglect, omission, willful or culpable negligence at the time of such injury or death … provided, however, 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.”

The question presented in this appeal:  Is a police officer who is entitled to receive benefits under General Municipal Law §207-c for a duty-related injury is barred from bringing a claim against his or her employer under General Municipal Law §205-e?

The Court of Appeal’s response: “We conclude that, where the municipal employer has elected not to provide coverage pursuant to the Workers' Compensation Law, a police officer who suffers a line-of-duty injury caused by the employer's statutory or regulatory violations may pursue a §205-e claim.”

James R. Diegelman, a City of Buffalo police officer from 1968 until 1995, was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a cancer caused by exposure to asbestos. The alleged genesis of Diegelman’s mesothelioma: exposure to asbestos during his employment at properties owned by the City and the Buffalo Board of Education and used by the Police Department.

The Court of Appeals noted that the City of Buffalo, like many other large municipalities, elected not to provide workers' compensation benefits to its police officers and contended that General Municipal Law §207-c "is essentially a super workers' compensation scheme for police officers" and, thus, “workers' compensation exclusivity rules should apply to police officers who receive section 207-c benefits, regardless of whether they are entitled to benefits under the Workers' Compensation Law.”

However, said the court, Workers’ Compensation Law and General Municipal Law §207-c  are independent of each other and, “contrary to the City's argument that §207-c is essentially a super workers' compensation scheme,” the Workers' Compensation Law "features a more lenient and more inclusive standard of covered activity than is intended to be covered and compensated in a General Municipal Law §207-c benefits universe."

The Court of Appeals explained that "the Legislature chose different eligibility standards — 'arising out of and in the course of employment' for workers' compensation benefits [in contrast to the] 'in the performance of his [or her] duties' [standard] for section 207-c benefits."

Under these differing standards, "police … officers may be eligible for Workers' Compensation benefits as a result of circumstances that might not entitle them to General Municipal Law §207-c benefits." Indeed, said the court, "[w]orkers' compensation benefits are intended to be dispensed regardless of fault, for any injury arising out of and in the course of one's employment . . .[,] [while] [s]ection 207-c benefits . . . are more expansive, but apply to a narrower class of work-related injury, relative to the performance of law enforcement duties." Further, as "the issue involving the entitlement to benefits in the General Municipal Law setting is not . . . the same one decided in a Workers' Compensation determination" a finding by the Workers' Compensation Board that an injury is work-related cannot be given collateral estoppel effect against a municipality that denies an application for §207-c benefits.

Rejecting the City's argument General Municipal Law §207-c benefits can be equated to workers' compensation benefits for purposes of interpreting language contained in General Municipal Law §205-e, the Court of Appeals observed that “[t]he language of §205-e prohibits only recipients of workers' compensation benefits from commencing suit against their employers; it does not, by its terms, bar the commencement of suits by recipients of section 207-c benefits— which we have repeatedly recognized to be separate and distinct from workers' compensation benefits.”

The court said that it concluded that “General Municipal Law §205-e, when construed ‘in an unforced and natural manner,’ cannot be read to bar suits by recipients of General Municipal Law §207-c benefits when those police officers are employed by municipalities that have elected not to provide workers' compensation coverage.”

The decision is posted on the Internet at:


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