October 06, 2020

Determining if an employee's injury sustained "in the line of duty" was an accident for the purposes of eligibility for accidental disability retirement benefits

The NYC Administrative Code §13-252 requires providing Accident Disability Retirement (ADR) benefits to an injured police officer when a medical examination shows that the officer is "physically or mentally incapacitated for the performance of city-service as a natural and proximate result of  [1] an accidental injury received in such city-service while a member" of the Pension Fund and [2] the "disability was not the result of willful negligence" on the part of the officer and [3] the officer "should be retired."

If the Medical Board so finds, the Police Pension Fund Board of Trustees [Board] then makes the final determination regarding the officer's entitlement to ADR and if it finds that ADR should be approved, it becomes effective after the last day a member is on the active NYPD payroll.

Responding to a family disturbance call, Petitioner [Police Officer] was exiting "the passenger side of his patrol van in haste" when his service firearm got caught on the seatbelt, and Police Officer fell to the ground, suffering spine and shoulder injuries. Police Officer's application for ADR benefits was rejected by the Board and Police Officer appealed the Board's determination. Supreme Court granted Police Officer's CPLR Article 78 petition and remanded the matter to the Board "for an award of [ADR] benefits." The Board appealed.

The Appellate Division unanimously reversed the Supreme Court's decision "on the law," denied Police Officer's petition and dismissed Police Office's CPLR Article 78 action.

The Appellate Division explained that Supreme Court erred in granting the Police Officer's petition and in annulling the Board's determination that Police Officer's injury did not arise from an unexpected accident or from a risk inherent in the job of being a police officer. Rather, said the court, "[t]he board correctly determined that [Police Officer's] injury was not caused by an accident as defined in the New York City Administrative Code and applicable case law.

Citing Lichtenstein v Board of Trustees of Police Pension Fund of Police Department of City of New York, 57 NY2d 1010, the Appellate Division observed that "not every line-of-duty injury will support an award of accidental disability retirement [and] an injury which occurs without an unexpected event as the result of activity undertaken in the [police officer's] performance of ordinary employment duties ... is not an accidental injury," sustaining the Board's conclusion that Police Officer's injury was not the result of "a sudden, unexpected event".

Quoting from Pratt v Regan, 68 NY2d 746, the Appellate Division observed that "the catching one's heel on a running board [of a motor vehicle] and thus losing balance may be a risk of the work performed [by an employee], but coming down hard upon the other foot in a pothole is not."

The decision is posted on the Internet at http://www.nycourts.gov/reporter/3dseries/2020/2020_05136.htm

 

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