September 07, 2021

An injury suffered by a firefighter that was incurred in the course of a training exercise held a risk inherent in the performance firefighter duties

The basic rule in resolving the denial of an application for accidental disability retirement is that [1] the applicant has the burden of establishing that his disability arose from an accident within the meaning of the Retirement and Social Security Law and [2] the retirement systems denial of such benefits will be sustained if supported by substantial evidence.

Citing Matter of Kenny v DiNapoli, 11 NY3d 873, the Appellate Division observed that "[f]or purposes of the Retirement and Social Security Law, an accident is defined as "a sudden, fortuitous mischance, unexpected, out of the ordinary, and injurious in impact" and "an injury that results from the performance of ordinary employment duties and is a risk inherent in such job duties is not considered accidental."

As the injured firefighter bringing this action [Petitioner] was granted performance of duty disability retirement benefits, the Appellate Division opined that the sole issue "to be resolved at the administrative hearing" that resulted in the denial of Petitioner's application for accidental disability retirement benefits was whether incident underlying Petitioner's application constituted an accident.

Petitioner testified that, on the day in question, he and two other firefighters were engaged in a routine training exercise involving the simulated rescue of an injured firefighter. Petitioner, with the assistance of his fellow firefighter, began to lift the victim from the floor and as he did so, "the other firefighter apparently lost his grip, causing [Petitioner] to 'jerk forward' under the weight of the victim and his gear (approximately 285 pounds), which, in turn, caused injury to [Petitioner's" back."

There was no dispute that Petitioner was injured during a training exercise that, in turn, simulated a task that was part and parcel of his routine employment duties. The Appellate Division opined that while Petitioner asserted that the precipitating event, i.e., his fellow firefighter losing his grip on the victim, was unforeseeable, the fact "[t]hat a fellow employee might for some reason be unable to fully hold up his [or her] side of the load is by no means unexpected. It is, rather, an integral risk of lifting and carrying heavy objects" or, in this case, another firefighter.

Under the circumstances, the court concluded that substantial evidence supports "the [Retirement System's] finding that Petitioner was injured during the course of a routine training exercise and as the result of the ordinary risks arising therefrom," and confirmed the Retirement System's determination.

Click HERE to access the Appellate Division's decision.

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Disability Benefits for fire, police and other public sector personnel - an e-book focusing on retirement for disability under the NYS Employees' Retirement System, the NYS Teachers' Retirement System, General Municipal Law Sections 207-a/207-c and similar statutes providing benefits to employees injured both "on-the-job" and "off-the-job." For more information about this e-book click HERE

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