January 14, 2019

Accidental disability retirement benefits are available to an applicant if precipitating event is not a risk of the work ordinarily performed by the applicant


Accidental disability retirement benefits are available to an applicant if precipitating event is not a risk of the work ordinarily performed by the applicant
Larivey v DiNapoli, 2019 NY Slip Op 00018, Appellate Division, Third Department

Becky C. Larivey, a bus attendant for a school district, applied for accidental disability retirement benefits after suffering a fall in the course of her being assigned to washing school buses. Her application was initially denied by the New York State Employees' Retirement System, but was subsequently granted by a Hearing Officer following a hearing. The State Comptroller overruled the Hearing Officer's decision and denied the application, ruling that the incident precipitating Larivey's fall and injury did not constitute an accident within the meaning of the Retirement and Social Security Law [RSSL]. Larivey appealed the Comptroller's determination.

The Appellate Division said that it is well settled that, for purposes of the Retirement and Social Security Law, an accident is "a 'sudden, fortuitous mischance, unexpected, out of the ordinary, and injurious in impact,'" citing Matter of Kenny v DiNapoli, 11 NY3d 873 and that the Court of Appeals had recently explained "the precipitating event must not be a risk of the work ordinarily performed." Further, observed the court, it is the petitioner who bears the burden of demonstrating the existence of an accident, and the Comptroller's determination in this regard will be upheld if is supported by substantial evidence.

The record in Larivey's case revealed that she had never been directed to wash buses as part of her duties as a bus attendant nor did her "job description" indicated that cleaning or maintaining buses were duties that could be assigned for her to perform.* Indeed, her regular duties involved assisting disabled children getting on and off the bus and ensuring their safety while riding the bus.  The Appellate Division's decision also noted that except for the date of which Larivey suffered her injury she had never been to the parking lot where the buses were kept.

The Appellate Division found that "[u]nder the circumstances presented, the incident was clearly sudden, unexpected and not a risk of [Larivery's] ordinary job duties." Accordingly the court found that Larivey met her burden of establishing that it was an accident within be meaning of the RSSL and that the Comptroller's contrary determination was not supported by substantial evidence.

Granting Larivey's petition, the Appellate Division remanded the matter to the Comptroller "for further proceedings not inconsistent with this Court's decision."

* See Matter of McCambridge v McGuire, 62 NY2d 563. An applicant is entitled to accidental disability retirement benefits when the injury involved "a precipitating accidental event which was not a risk of the work performed."

The decision is posted on the Internet at:
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