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N.Y. Court of Appeals: Firefighters & Police can Sue Employers for Unsafe Workplace

Our office has a particular respect and appreciation for the nature of modern police and firefighting work which exposes police and firefighters to risk of physical injury on a daily basis, thereby increasing their vulnerability to physical injury or death. Our firm’s partner, Irving O. Farber, Esq., has a first-hand understanding of the dangers faced through his role as a Mount Kisco volunteer firefighter.

There is often misunderstanding regarding who is responsible for injuries incurred on the job by police and firefighters. Many believe that the only monetary compensation for on-the-job injuries or death resulting from hazards arising from your job is workers’ compensation type of benefits. This is not so. In addition to those benefits, by statute, if you are injured as a result of the negligence of any person failing to comply with any ordinance, rule, regulation, etc., such person is liable for your injury or death. Typically, but not solely, the person who owns or controls the premises is guilty of violating a rule or ordinance which may have contributed to the injury or death is responsible. However, ownership and control of the premises is not the sole basis. A negligent builder, for example, may also be responsible in part for an injury incurred by a police officer of firefighter. Since duty-related injuries for which someone other than the employer might be responsible are a creature of statute, each case must be carefully analyzed to see if, in addition to on-the-job injury benefits, you can also look to someone else to make you truly whole.

New York’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, expanded the rules allowing police officers and firefighters to allow private causes of action against their municipal employers for unreasonable occupational hazards in the place of employment, i.e. an unsafe workplace. The Court of Appeals held that, “The Legislature has made clear that a police officer [or firefighter] has a right of action regardless of whether the injury…is caused by the violation of a provision which codifies a common law duty.”

In sum, police and firefighters can now sue their municipal employers if the workplace is unsafe. As one of our partners is a volunteer firefighter, we have a special interest in the safety of the workplace for firefighters and police.

(above) Irving O. Farber, Esq.
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