New York Police Officer Diagnosed with Mesothelioma Allowed to File for Both Line-of-Duty Benefits and Salary/Medical Expense Benefits Court of Appeals of New York, November 21, 2016
The plaintiff was a police officer for the City of Buffalo from 1968-1995. In 2012, he was diagnosed with mesothelioma and filed this proceeding asking permission to serve a late notice of claim against the city. The plaintiff alleged asbestos exposure during his work at properties owned by the city and by the Board of Education. The city argued that leave should not be given to the plaintiff to file a late notice of claim because New York General Municipal Law Section 207-c provided the exclusive remedy for work-related injuries sustained by police officers. The Supreme Court granted leave to serve a late notice of claim, the Appellate Division reversed and denied the application, and plaintiff appealed to this court, which reversed the Appellate Division to allow the late notice of claim.
The court examined General Municipal Law Sections 205-e, which allowed officers to bring tort claims, and 207-c, which allowed payment of salary, medical and hospital expenses to police officers injured in the performance of duties. The city equated 207-c to a workers’ compensation law, and argued this was the plaintiff’s exclusive remedy.
The court recognized that the law providing for workers compensation benefits as the exclusive remedy for employees against employers was well-settled. Further, section 205-e prohibited recipients of workers compensation benefits from suing their employers in tort. The court then compared section 207-c to the general workers compensation law in New York. It noted that these two statutory compensation systems were independent of each other, and pointed to differences between the two laws: (1) different eligibility standards — “arising out of and in the course of employment” for workers’ compensation benefits, and ‘in the performance of his [or her] duties’ for section 207-c benefits”; (2) workers’ compensation benefits are intended to be dispensed regardless of fault, while section 207-c benefits are more expansive, but apply to a narrower class of work-related injury, relative to the performance of law enforcement duties”; (3) separate bodies are charged with determining entitlement to benefits under the Workers’ Compensation Law and § 207-c, in proceedings involving “significantly distinct” burdens and procedures.
Thus, the language of 205-e prohibits only recipients of workers’ compensation benefits from commencing suit against their employers; it does not bar suits by recipients of 207-c benefits, which were separate and distinct from New York’s general workers’ compensation law. “The language of section 205-e prohibits only recipients of workers’ compensation benefits from commencing suit against their employers; it does not, by its terms, bar the commencement of suits by recipients of section 207-c benefits — which we have repeatedly been recognized to be separate and distinct from workers’ compensation benefits. In fact, section 205-e states that the right contained therein is ‘[i]n addition to any other right of action or recovery under any other provision of law’ (General Municipal Law § 205-e ). If the Legislature had intended the proviso in section 205-e to extend to suits by recipients of section 207-c benefits, ‘it easily could have and surely would have written the statute to say so.’” The court also supported its opinion with a summary of the historical enactments of these laws. Thus, 205-e cannot be read to bar suits by recipients of 207-c benefits when those police officers are employed by municipalities that have elected not to provide workers’ compensation coverage, as the City of Buffalo did.