July 8, 2021

Stress experienced in the performance of recognized duties of the position is not an accident for the purposes of qualifying for accidental disability retirement benefits

For purposes of the Retirement and Social Security Law, an accident has been defined as a "sudden, fortuitous mischance, unexpected, out of the ordinary, and injurious in impact" and the burden is on the party seeking accidental disability retirement benefits to demonstrate that his or her disability arose from an accident within the meaning of the Retirement and Social Security Law. Typically the Comptroller's determination is upheld if supported by substantial evidence.

In this instance a State Trooper's [Petitioner] duties involved working with informants in an effort to infiltrate drug cartels and curtail the supply of drugs coming into the United States that entailed "interacting with dangerous individuals" which duties were set out in the job description for his position. Returning from an overseas mission, Petitioner experienced a panic attack in his office. Subsequently hospitalized and referred to an intensive therapy program, Petitioner was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, manic depression and anxiety, and deemed unable to return to work.

Petitioner filed an application for accidental disability retirement benefits based on this diagnosis, which Petitioner claimed was a result of his work with the drug cartels. His application was rejected by the retirement system, which decision, following administrative appeal, was ultimately sustained by the State Comptroller. Petitioner asked the Appellate Division to review the rejection of his application for accidental disability retirement benefits.*

The Appellate Division held that Petitioner's mental injuries were a direct result of the stress that he was under while working undercover and interacting with informants and members of dangerous drug cartels -- "dangerous undercover work was part and parcel of his regular duties as a narcotics investigator and was specifically set forth in petitioner's job description."

Accordingly, opined the court, the stress that produced Petitioner's mental injuries "was an inherent part of his job and was not unexpected, substantial evidence supports the finding that his injuries were not the result of an accident."

In contrast, the Appellate Division noted that with respect to cases involving emergency workers who sustained mental injuries after responding to the World Trade Center bombing, there is no statutory presumption that applies to Petitioner's situation and decline to disturb the Comptroller's determination denying Petitioner's application for accidental disability retirement benefits.

* The New York State and Local Retirement System denied Plaintiff's application on the ground, among others, that the incident that allegedly occurred on an unspecified date was not an accident within the meaning of Retirement and Social Security Law §363.

Click HEREto access the Appellate Division's ruling.

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