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Police Officer Hurt in Domestic Violence Call


First Case:

Sometime in March 1998, petitioner who is a police officer since 1989 was suffering from depression and suicidal ideation and was admitted to a psychiatric hospital. A New York Criminal Lawyer said the petitioner was out of work for several months after which time she returned to light-duty work that did not involve her carrying a weapon. She remained on light duty until September 2001, when she stopped working altogether. In 2003, she applied for performance of duty disability retirement benefits, claiming to be permanently disabled due to posttraumatic stress disorder and depression. The application was initially denied and petitioner requested a hearing and redetermination. Following hearings, the Hearing Officer upheld the denial, finding, among other things, that petitioner had failed to establish that she was incapacitated from the performance of duty as the result of a disability sustained in service. Respondent made supplemental findings of fact, but otherwise adopted the Hearing Officer’s findings. Thus, a CPLR Article 78 Proceeding ensued to review the determination of respondent which denied petitioner’s application for performance of duty disability retirement benefits.

The court finds that the denial was proper and affirms the respondent’s determination. Under the Retirement and Social Security Law, in order to be entitled to performance of duty disability retirement benefits, an applicant must establish that he or she is physically or mentally incapacitated for performance of duty as the natural and proximate result of a disability sustained in such service.

Here, petitioner presented her testimony; her medical records; and the testimony of a psychologist. According to the psychologist, petitioner suffers from a permanent major depressive disorder that prevents her from performing both the regular duties of a police officer and the light duty tasks that she had been assigned; and petitioner blamed various events in her life, including the death of her nephew, a prior romantic relationship with a fellow police officer during which she was subjected to incidents of domestic violence, as well as trouble with coworkers and stress on the job but he could not determine if this trouble and stress caused her condition or was the result of it. Then, according to the petitioner herself, she had trouble at work dealing with fellow police officers and with cases of domestic violence or abuse due to her own experiences, but did not testify that her disability was sustained in the performance of her job duties. Nonetheless, a review of petitioner’s medical records reveals that, although her various medical experts diagnosed her with major depression, they did not make a causal link between the condition and her employment. It must be noted that the New York State and Local Police and Fire Retirement System presented the report of a psychiatrist who examined petitioner at its request and reviewed her medical records. The psychiatrist diagnosed petitioner as suffering from a major depressive disorder and posttraumatic stress disorder. However, he concluded, that petitioner’s condition stems from personal trauma and nothing in connection with her police work. A Manhattan Criminal Lawyer said for this reason, and the lack of any medical opinion directly linking petitioner’s condition to her employment, the court finds that substantial evidence supports respondent’s determination that petitioner’s condition was not attributable to her employment.

On the petitioner’s remaining contention that she is permanently disabled from performing even the restricted job duties is rendered academic by the decision.

Accordingly, the determination is confirmed, without costs, and the petition is dismissed.

Second Case:

Sometime in April 2006, police officers, petitioner his partner, responded to a residential domestic violence call. Two other officers accompanied petitioner and his partner to the scene to provide backup. Upon entering the residence, the male subject struck the two backup officers and shoved petitioner’s partner onto a small table. As his partner held onto the subject, petitioner handcuffed the individual. When petitioner turned away to comfort a small child who was present in the residence, the table upon which petitioner’s partner was sprawled collapsed, pulling the partner, the subject and petitioner to the floor. In July 2007, petitioner applied for accidental disability retirement benefits, alleging a debilitating injury to his right shoulder as a result of the April 2006 incident. Respondent New York State and Local Police and Fire Retirement System denied the application, finding that the foregoing incident did not constitute an accident within the meaning of the Retirement and Social Security Law. Following a hearing, a Hearing Officer reached the same conclusion and denied petitioner’s application. Respondent Comptroller upheld the Hearing Officer’s decision. Thus, a CPLR Article 78 proceeding ensued.

The court finds that the denial was proper and affirms the respondent’s determination. Here, petitioner bore the burden of establishing that his injuries were accidental, and the Comptroller’s determination in this regard, if supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole, will be upheld. To that end, when a petitioner sustains an injury in the course of performing ordinary employment duties, it is not an accidental injury. In other words, the precipitating event must emanate from a risk that is not an inherent element of the petitioner’s regular employment duties.

Notably, petitioner testified, and his job description reflects, that responding to domestic violence calls and restraining unruly subjects were part of his routine employment duties. Petitioner argues that his injury stemmed not from the performance of his routine employment duties but from an unexpected event, the table collapsing beneath his partner after his routine employment duties had concluded. However, the record fails to support this claim. Petitioner, his partner and one of the backup officers all testified that the table collapsed within seconds of petitioner placing the subject in handcuffs and, it occurred while petitioner, his partner and the subject were all still present in the confined space where the table was located. Thus, based upon the circumstances, the court cannot say that the Comptroller erred in denying petitioner’s application.

Accordingly, the determination is confirmed, without costs, and the petition is dismissed.

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