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Court Refuses to dismiss Police Officer’s Personal Injury Case Based on Pension Board’s Determination

NYC firefighters and police officers have similar pension rights and their pension boards operate very much alike.  As a result, cases that determine firefighters’ rights are applicable to police officers’ cases and vice versa.

In one recent case, a New York appeals court rejected an attempt by the City of New York to prevent a former detective from arguing that his most recent line-of-duty accident forced him into retirement.  while working, the plaintiff allegedly fell on a step on an interior staircase in the One Marine Terminal Building in Brooklyn, and reinjured his left knee. He claimed that the City, as landlord, was negligent in failing to provide adequate lighting and proper handrails for the subject staircase. The City asked the court to dismiss so much of the claim as sought to recover damages for disability, lost earnings, and lost benefits, on the basis of collateral estoppel. The City contended that, in a prior administrative proceeding, the Medical Board of the Police Pension Fund determined that the plaintiff’s disability was caused by previous line-of-duty injuries, and not the subject accident. But both the trial court and the appellate court rejected the City’s argument.  The courts reasoned that the question of whether the Marine-Terminal accident was a legal cause of plaintiff’s retirement for purposes of the law suit was not identical to that “necessarily decided” in the prior administrative proceeding.  The courts also reasoned that the plaintiff was not accorded a full and fair opportunity to contest the issue in the administrative proceeding.

The “take away” from this case for retiring or retired firefighters and police officers is that even if the pension board determines or determined that a given line-of-duty accident was not a cause of your retirement, that should not prevent you from raising the issue anew in a subsequent personal-injury action, if any.

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