Court of Appeals Holds Police Officer May Pursue General Municipal Law 205-e Claim Against Municipality Where It Does Not Offer Workers’ Comp Benefits

In Matter of Diegelman v City of Buffalo (No. 168) previewed here, the Court of Appeals held that a police officer injured in the line of duty may pursue a negligence claim against his employing municipality for a negligent violation of a statutory or regulatory duty where the municipality elects not to provide workers’ compensation benefits.  In Diegelman, a Buffalo police officer was diagnosed with mesothelioma, and brought an action against the City under General Municipal Law § 205-e, alleging an injury in the line of duty by exposure to asbestos at City police stations.  General Municipal Law § 205-e generally allows officers injured in the line of duty as a result of their employing municipality’s negligent failure to abide by statutory or regulatory requirements to assert tort claims against the municipality to recover for their injuries.

As the Court of Appeals explained, the appeal came down to whether General Municipal Law § 205-e tort claims are barred by the receipt of benefits pursuant to General Municipal Law § 207-c, which covers all salary, benefits, and medical care for police officers injured in the line of duty.  Rejecting the City’s argument that section 207-c benefits are intended to be a “super-workers’ compensation” scheme that are the injured police officers’ exclusive remedy, the Court held that section 205-e claims are not barred unless the municipality offers its police officers workers’ compensation coverage under the Workers’ Compensation Law.  Indeed, the Court held, workers’ compensation benefits are not the same as section 207-c benefits, and the exclusion prohibiting injured officers who receive workers’ compensation benefits from bringing section 205-e tort claims cannot be construed to include benefits under section 207-c.  This interpretation, the Court held, was consistent with the legislative intent to read section 205-e broadly in favor of the rights of the injured police officers.

The Court of Appeals’ decision can be found here.

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