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June 23, 2021

Judicial review of a denial of an application for accidental disability retirement benefits

In this appeal challenging the denial of the Plaintiff's application for accidental disability retirement benefits, the Appellate Division noted that:

1. In order to be entitled to accidental disability retirement benefits, "the burden is on the applicant to demonstrate that his or her incapacitation was the natural and proximate result of an accident sustained while in service";

2. The law is settled that the Comptroller "is vested with exclusive authority to determine all applications for retirement benefits, including the question of whether an accidental injury was sustained while in service, and if supported by substantial evidence, the determination must be upheld"; and

3. The determination with respect to whether an applicant was in service at the time he or she suffered the injury turns on whether "he or she was performing job duties at the time of the injury."

The situation before the Appellate Division in this action involved a police officer [Plaintiff] on limited duty as the result an incident that occurred in 2000 that led to her being assigned to desk duty at her precinct.

In 2011, and still on "limited duty," the Plaintiff accompanied a fellow officer to pick up breakfast for the precinct. Returning to the precinct after picking up the breakfast meals, Plaintiff was injured when she slipped on ice in the precinct parking lot.

Plaintiff applied for accidental disability retirement benefits as the result of the injuries sustained in 2011 and the 2000 incident that triggered her "limited duty" assignment. Her application for accidental disability retirement benefits was initially denied as the Retirement System's determined that neither the 2000 incident* nor the 2011 incident constituted an accident within the meaning of Retirement and Social Security Law §363.

Ultimately a Hearing Officer sustained the Retirement System's denial of Plaintiff's application for accidental disability retirement benefits, finding that the Retirement System had already determined that the 2000 incident did not constitute an accident and that Plaintiff was not in service at the time of the 2011 incident.

The State Comptroller adopted the Hearing Officer's findings of fact and conclusions of law whereupon Plaintiff initiated a CPLR Article 78 proceeding  challenging the Comptroller's determination.

Addressing the merits of Plaintiff's claim, the Appellate Division said:

The record indicated that a fellow officer in the precinct at the time volunteered to go to get the breakfast and asked Plaintiff to accompany him to help carry the large order. With the permission of her supervisor Plaintiff and the other officer went for the breakfast order and Plaintiff testified that she slipped on ice in the precinct parking lot while returning with the food for the precinct staff.

The Appellate Division said that, in its view, in going out to pick up a breakfast order for the precinct "at the behest of her supervisor, Plaintiff was performing a work duty rather than engaged in a personal activity at the time she suffered her 2011 injury." 

However, as the Comptroller did not reach the issue as to whether the 2011 incident constituted an accident within the meaning of Retirement and Social Security Law §363, the court remitted the matter for the Comptroller's consideration of that element of Plaintiff's claim.

* As Plaintiff's brief did not address Comptroller's finding with respect to the 2000 incident, the Appellate Division deemed that claim abandoned by the Plaintiff. 

Click HERE to access the Appellate Division's decision.

 

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