May 28, 2021

Firefighter's application for accidental disability retirement benefits rejected based on substantial evidence that the injuries were not the result of an accident

A firefighter [Plaintiff] filed an application for accidental disability retirement benefits alleging that he was permanently disabled as a result of injuries sustained during seven different incidents occurring between 2006 and 2017. ERS, however, denied Plaintiff's application upon the ground that the incidents did not constitute accidents within the meaning of Retirement and Social Security Law §363. Ultimately Plaintiff withdrew four of the seven incidents, and the sole issue to be resolved was whether these incidents "qualified as accidents."

The ERS Hearing Officer denied Plaintiff's application, finding, among other things, that the cited incidents occurred during the course of Plaintiff's routine employment duties and were risks inherent in the performance of those duties. The Comptroller sustained the Hearing Officer's determination and Plaintiff initiated a CPLR Article 78 proceeding challenging the Comptroller's decision.

"As the applicant, [Plaintiff] bore the burden of establishing that his disability was the result of an accident within the meaning of the Retirement and Social Security Law ... [the Appellate Division said that the Comptroller's] determination on that point will be upheld if supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. Further, said the court, "for the purposes of §363, 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 other court decisions. In contrast, opined the Appellate Division, "[a]n injury that results from the performance of ordinary employment duties and is a risk inherent in such job duties is not considered accidental."

The decision reports that Plaintiff "does not dispute, and the record indeed establishes, that [Plaintiff] was engaged in the performance of his ordinary firefighting duties during each of the incidents at issue" which involved encountering smoke, water, tangled hose lines, reduced visibility and debris, falling ice that 'could have been reasonably anticipated' as well as the corresponding threat of tripping or falling due to such conditions."

Concluding that substantial evidence supported ERS's finding that the incidents at issue did not constitute accidents within the meaning of §363, the Appellate Division declined to disturb the Comptroller's decision.

Click HERE to access the Appellate Division's decision. 


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