A Nassau County police officer was injured when he slipped and fell on front steps covered with snow at a residence while investigating a burglar alarm. He successfully recovered $1.5 million following a jury trial on his claim against the homeowners under New York’s General Municipal Law (GML) 205-e which gives New York police officers the right to sue for line-of-duty injuries where a violation of a statute, ordinance, code, rule, or regulation gives rise to the officer’s injuries. This law applies to all police officers, including members of the NYPD, and all members of police departments in Westchester, Nassau, and Suffolk counties.
At the time of his fall, the officer was investigating the source of an alarm that had been triggered at a home. In the week before the incident, the alarm had been triggered three separate times, and the police had been notified on each occasion. The alarm company had been instructed to contact the homeowners in the event that the alarm went off, or a relative in their absence. Thus, in this case, the homeowners clearly were on notice that the police had been responding to the alarms at the residence and reasonably could be expected to do so in the future if the alarm was triggered. The snow had last fallen three days before the occurrence. There was no lighting around the home and the officer had to rely on his flashlight. The owners claimed that their home was a summer residence and so they did not hire anyone to remove snow or ice on the property. Following a jury trial in favor of the officer, the homeowners appealed.
In order to bring an action under GML 205-e, the police officer was required to identify the statute or ordinance with which the defendant failed to comply. Under GML 205-e, liability will exist where there is negligent noncompliance with “any of the statutes, ordinances, rules, orders and requirements of the federal, state, county, village, town or city governments or of any and all their departments, divisions and bureaus.” The courts have required that the cited violation must be found among a well-developed body of law and regulation that imposes a clear duty on the defendant.
In this case, the appellate court held that the officer established that the homeowners had violated section 302.3 of the Property Maintenance Code (1) by failing to maintain their front steps so that they were free of hazardous conditions, (2) that the officer slipped on a hazardous snow condition on the front steps, and (3) “that his injuries were practically and reasonably connected to the [homeowners]’ violation of section 302.3 of the Property Maintenance Code.” In doing so, the appellate court upheld the civil jury verdict in favor of the officer and his wife. The court was not persuaded by the homeowners’ argument that the officer’s injury occurred at a “summer house,” thus implying that a lesser duty was expected of the homeowners during the off-season.
On these wintery, snowy days, police officers and other first responders can take some comfort knowing that if they are injured in the line of duty that they and their families can receive just compensation for their injuries caused by the negligence of those violating statutes, codes, and regulations designed for public safety and security.
Byrne v. Nicosia, 104 A.D.3d 717, 961 N.Y.S.2d 261 (App. Div. 2d Dep’t).