A correction officer's application for performance of duty disability retirement is to be evaluated to determine if the disability resulted from an act or omission of an inmate
Garcia v DiNapoli, 2018 NY Slip Op 06602, Appellate Division, Third Department
A county correction officer [Officer] filed for Retirement and Social Security Law §607-c performance of duty disability retirement benefits claiming he had suffered a permanently disability as a result of his tripping and falling while descending stairs within the facility in the course of his preparing to move inmates to another location.
Officer's application was denied by the Retirement System on the ground that his alleged disability "was not the result of an act of any inmate" and ultimately the State Comptroller accepted the findings and recommendation of the hearing officer. Officer appealed the Comptroller's determination.
The Appellate Division noted that Officer was  required to establish that the alleged incapacity was "the natural and proximate result of any act of any inmate" and  had to demonstrate that Officer's claimed injuries were caused by direct interaction with an inmate and were caused by some affirmative act on the part of the inmate." Further, noted the court, the action by an inmate need not to be intentionally directed at the correction officer nor does need to be volitional or disobedient in a manner that proximately causes the officer's injury, but must be more than "a benign chore routinely performed in penal institutions by inmates."
Officer testified that he daily performs a recreation movement and on the day of the incident he was performing a routine recreation movement in accordance with regular procedures when he heard footsteps behind him, turned around to look, and "saw an inmate right on [his] back" running down the stairs about two steps behind him." Officer then stated the "[u]pon unexpectedly seeing the inmate, [he] became 'scared,' missed a step and grabbed a railing with his arm but continued to fall to the ground, resulting in his injuries."
Officer testified that, although the inmate did not make physical contact with him until assisting him off the ground after he fell, "the inmate should not have been on the stairs at that time," as Officer had not yet given the command to the inmates to descend the stairs. Officer further explained that this incident had never happened before and that "inmates are always required to wait for his command before descending the stairs and entering the recreation yard."
The Appellate Division said that under circumstances it found that Officer had demonstrated that the injuries that he sustained from his fall occurred "contemporaneously with, and flowed directly, naturally and proximately from, the inmate's 'disobedient and affirmative act of descending down the stairs unexpectedly prior to receiving permission to do so.'"
Under these circumstances the court decided that Officer had demonstrated that the injuries that he sustained from his fall occurred "contemporaneously with, and flowed directly, naturally and proximately from, the inmate's disobedient and affirmative act of descending down the stairs unexpectedly prior to receiving permission to do so."
While "losing one's footing — without more — does not constitute an affirmative act," in this instance the Appellate Division concluded that Officer's misstep and fall flowed directly, naturally and proximately from the inmate's act of being out of place without permission and startling Officer by running down the stairs.
The Appellate Division remitted the matter to the Retirement System for further proceedings on the issue of the permanency of Officer's alleged disability
The decision is posted on the Internet at: