Two recent New York court decisions demonstrate situations in which police officers are and are not able to sue for damages for a line-of-duty injury.
In Alvarado v. Ortiz, decided by the New York County Supreme Court, the plaintiff was NYPD Officer Alvarado who was injured in a motor vehicle accident while in duty, driving to retrieve a bullet proof vest from an NYPD shooting range. Officer Alvarado was a passenger in a New York Police Department Vehicle driven by her partner when it was hit from behind by defendant Mr. Ortiz. She sustained a serious injury to her neck in the collision.
In certain line-of-duty accidents, officers are prohibited from bringing a personal injury lawsuit against a negligent party. This is due to the “firefighters rule” which prevents firefighters and police officers from recovering damages in negligence lawsuits where the injury arises out of the type of risk they assume as part of their duties. The basis for the rule is that public safety officers such as firefighters and police officers knowingly take on a dangerous profession, and willingly assume the risks associated with those dangers, so the public should not be held liable for injuries that are sustained while the officers are carrying out that function.
In New York, there are exceptions to the firefighters rule written into the General Municipal Law § 205. That section allows officers who are injured in the line-of-duty to sue defendants who violate a statute. To win a case on that basis, the plaintiff needs to show that firstly, a law was violated, secondly, that the violation led “directly or indirectly” to the injury, and finally that the violation was due to the defendant’s omission, neglect, or willful or culpable conduct.
The Court in Alvarado discussed the General Municipal Law before determining that the firefighter’s rule did not even apply in this instance, because at the time of the accident, the police officers were simply riding in a vehicle to collect an item of police apparel, which is not especially dangerous and did not relate to “the particular dangers which police officers are expected to assume as part of their duties increasing the risk of injury.” Officer Alvarado was allowed to proceed with her negligence lawsuit.
Compare this decision to the appeals court’s decision in Moore v. City of New York for an example of the firefighter’s rule in action. Police officer Moore’s injury occurred when he was responding to an emergency call and his brakes failed, causing the marked NYPD vehicle to plow into a building, causing him injury. He sued the City for negligence, asserting it failed to properly and safely maintain the vehicle in which he was traveling.
The Court held that the lawsuit was barred by the firefighters rule because, at the time of the accident, Officer Moore was responding to an emergency which is a specific police function that exposed him to an increased risk of injury. The injury was connected to a special hazard that a police officer assumes as part of his duties. The Court did not allow Officer Moore to proceed with the lawsuit based on the exception in GML 205-e as his case theory did not fulfil the criteria required, namely that a breach of a statute or ordinance lead to his injury.
We are experienced attorneys representing police officers, fire fighters and other first responders who are injured in the line-of-duty and when responding to emergencies. Call us and learn your legal entitlements at 2124251401, or contact us online to arrange a consultation to discuss your legal options.
Alvarado v. Ortiz, 113139/2010, NYLJ 1202659811674 (Sup. NY, Decided June 4, 2014)
Moore v. City of New York 126 A.D.3d 6795 N.Y.S.3d 199