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February 27, 2020

An employee suffering an injury on his way to work is not in service for the purposes of qualifying for accidental or performance of duty disability retirement benefits


The New York State and Local Police and Fire Retirement System [LPRFS] denied a state park police officer's [Officer] application for performance of duty disability retirement benefits. Officer had alleged that he was permanently incapacitated from the performance of his duties as a result of a slip and fall on his employer's premises. 

Officer requested and was granted a hearing. The Hearing Officer sustained the LPRFS denial, find that Officer was not in service at the time he suffered his injuries. The State Comptroller accepted the findings and conclusions of the Hearing Officer, and Officer filed a CPLR Article 78 challenging the Comptrollers decision.

The Appellate Division, noting that the claimant bears the burden of proving that he was [1] "[p]hysically or mentally incapacitated [from] performance of duty as the natural and proximate result of a disability . . . sustained in such service"; and [2] whether he actually "was in service turns on whether he . . . was performing job duties at the time of the injury," said that the Comptroller is vested with the exclusive authority to determine all applications for retirement benefits, including whether an injury was sustained while in service, and that determination will be upheld if supported by substantial evidence.

Officer's testimony at the hearing, said the court, made it apparent that he was actually on his way into work at the time he suffered his injury rather than being "on duty and at work" as he stated in his application for benefits. Further, citing a number of decisions, the Appellate Division pointed out that it had upheld findings that an employee who is injured before reporting for work and commencing his duties is not "in service" when the injuries were sustained within the meaning of the Retirement and Social Security Law.

Opining that the Comptroller's determination that Officer was not in service at the time he sustained his injury was "supported by substantial evidence," the Appellate Division said it declined to disturb it.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:
http://www.nycourts.gov/reporter/3dseries/2019/2019_09079.htm

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