A 30-year old woman joined the New York Police Department in 1990, and served continuously until her retirement in 2010. In 2007, the policewoman, while assigned to the NYPD’s peddler unit, was unloading confiscated property from a truckto the NYPD’s property clerk in Queens. While lifting a box of property, the policewoman stepped back on to a shovel, which caused her to fall. The policewoman twisted her right knee and was admitted to the emergency room at a nearby hospital. The NYC hospital staff diagnosed her with a sprained knee. The knee was diagnosed to be permanently disabled, which restricted her desk duty.
The policewoman applied to the Police Pension Fund for Accident Disability Retirement but this was denied by a tie vote. Her counsel asserted that the only explanation for the shovel on the floor of the truck was someone else’s negligence; and that, accordingly, there was no reason for the policewoman to expect or foresee that the shovel would be left in a “dangerous location.”
The court held that in a challenge of a denial of disability payments, the PPF’s determination will be sustained unless it is “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion or contrary to law.” The court said it cannot “weigh the evidence, choose between conflicting proof, or substitute its assessment of the evidence or witness credibility for that of the administrative factfinder.”
ADR benefits are available when it is showed that the applicant is physically or mentally incapacitated from the performance of duty as a natural and proximate result of an “accidental injury” received in the line of duty, and that such disability was not the result of willful negligence on the part of the applicant. A denial of ADR due to a tie vote cannot be set aside “unless it can be determined as a matter of law on the record that the disability was the natural and proximate result of a service-related accident.” On the other hand, an injury caused by a trip where tripping is a foreseeable risk of the work being performed does not entitle the applicant to ADR.
In this case, the court held that it was neither irrational nor an error of law for the PPF to deny ADR on the grounds that the policewoman’s fall was not an accident. The policewoman was unloading merchandise from a truck that, according to the record, contains boxes and other objects, like shovels. Inherent in that work, then, is the stepping over or around objects. The risk of tripping while performing this work is foreseeable; therefore, the fall cannot be considered sudden, unexpected, and out of ordinary, and it cannot be said that the policewoman is entitled to ADR as a matter of law, the court held.
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