Compared to other citizens, police officers in New York State that are hurt on the job, have a limited right to recover for injuries that are caused by the negligence of others. According to General Municipal Law §205-e, police officers can only sue for personal injury if they can demonstrate that the violation of specific statute or regulation caused their injury. In other words, a police officer cannot bring an injury claim based on common law negligence — there has to be a violation of a statute, ordinance, rule, etc. The question before the Court was whether Labor Law §27- a(3)(a)(1) was the kind of statute, if violated, that provides an injured police officer with the right to make an injury claim under GML § 205-e. In a victory for police officer safety, the Court ruled that it did.
Labor Law §27-a (3)(a)(1) imposes on employers a duty to provide a safe workplace “free from recognized hazards, “ . . . [and] reasonable and adequate protection to the lives, safety or health of its employees.” The NYC police officer who brought the case was injured when she was caused to fall from a truck while working on “barrier truck detail”. The officer claimed that the truck was inadequate for the task, that other trucks were adequate and available for the task and that the truck violated an OSHA provision requiring railings.
The City of New York argued that unlike other statutes actionable under GML §205-e, that Labor Law §27-a (3)(a)(1) was too general and did not identify with any specificity, the kinds of danger which the employer needed to protect against. The Court disagreed noting that other ‘general duty of care’ statutes have been approved by the Court as predicate for making a claim under GML§205-e. In addition, the Court noted that for many years, the NYS Legislature has made it very clear that GML §205-e should be read “expansively so as to favor recovery by police officers whenever possible.” While 2 judges dissented from the majority decision, the dissent was not in wholehearted opposed to the majority.
The 2 judge dissent agreed with the City’s position that Labor Law §27-a (3)(a)(1) created too general a duty of care to provide — on its own — an actionable predicate for an injury claim under GML §205-e. The dissent argued that the injured police officer should be made to “cite to a specific regulation that they claim was violated” of the many workplace safety rules embraced by the Labor Law. The dissent analogized this approach to Labor Law §241(6) claims for personal injury made by construction workers who must cite to an Industrial Code regulation violation as a precondition to filing a claim. Should there be an explosion of claims Labor Law §27-a (3)(a)(1) (which is very unlikely) it will be interesting to see if ultimately the Court adopts the dissent’s suggested approach.
The decision is Gammons v. City of New York. The entire decision can be read here.