Police – Line of Duty Accidents

Can a police officer file a personal injury lawsuit to recover money for an injury caused in a line of duty accident because of someone’s negligence?

Yes. Since 1999 General Municipal Law 205-e (GML 205-e) allows police officers to file a lawsuit against people responsible for causing an injury while in the line of duty.

What Does General Municipal Law 205-e Do For Police Officers?

General Municipal Law 205-e allows police officers (and their survivors) to file a lawsuit to recover money from an individual if the police officer is injured in the course of duty and the injury was directly or even indirectly caused by the individual violating a statute.

Can a Police Officer File a Personal Injury Lawsuit in Addition to Worker’s Compensation?

Yes, a lawsuit against the parties responsible for causing your on-the-job injury pursuant to GML 205-e is in addition to Worker’s Compensation.

What Does A Police Officer Have To Show to File a Lawsuit?

In the tragic case of Nassau County Police Officer Geoffrey J. Breitkopf, the United States District Court, E.D. New York in the case, Breitkopf v. Gentile, 2014, 41 F.Supp.3d 220 identified three requirements of GML 205-e necessary for police officers or their survivors to bring a lawsuit for injuries or death caused by another person’s negligent failure to comply with an applicable law or regulation.

Police Officers (by their lawyer) Must Meet Three Requirements

  1. Identify the statute or ordinance with which the defendant failed to comply,
  2. Describe the manner in which the police officer was injured, and
  3. Set forth those facts from which it may be inferred that the defendant’s negligence directly or indirectly caused the harm.

Police Officers Are Not Required to Show the Same Degree of Causation for the Injury

General Municipal Law 205-e Requires a Lesser Standard than is required in a “normal” (common-law) negligence lawsuit.

The New York Court of Appeals recognized that “a plaintiff [police officer] is not required to show the same degree of proximate cause as is required in a common-law negligence action.”  A plaintiff need only establish a practical or reasonable connection between the statutory or regulatory violation and the claimed injury.” Giuffrida v. Citibank Corp., 100 N.Y.2d 72, 790 N.E.2d 772, 760 N.Y.S.2d 397, 2003 N.Y.

This means that to be entitled to use General Municipal law 205-e to file a lawsuit against someone who injured a police officer, the police officer must only show a practical or reasonable connection between the law or regulation the negligent person violated and the cause of the injury. This is a lesser degree than is required in a “regular” personal injury lawsuit.

Examples of Lawsuits Where Police Officers Recovered Money for Injuries

Police Officer Injured When Struck By a Car

Nassau County Police Officer Stanganelli was conducting a step out when he stopped a speeding SUV. Officer Stanganelli was struck by a car traveling behind the SUV.

Normally, money could be obtained from both the speeding SUV and the car which struck the police officer. However, in this case, the SUV was being driven by a federal agent and federal law normally does not allow this type of lawsuit against federal agents.

    Our partners made history in this case when the United States District Court, E.D. New York, for the first time ever, ruled that General Municipal law 205-e applied to a Federal Tort Claims Act case (Stanganelli v. U.S. 2015 WL 4629255 and allowed Officer Stanganelli to sue the federal government. Police Officer Stanganelli recovered $50,000 from the car behind the SUV plus $850,000 from the federal government.

    Police Officer Responding to a Call Slips on Snow and Ice

    Nassau County Police Officer Byrne responded to a burglary call at a home in Bayville. He slipped and fell on snow and ice on the top step at the front door. GML 205-e allowed the police officer to file a lawsuit against the property owner Byrne v. Nicosia, 104 A.D.3d 717).

    The New York Supreme Court ruled that the defendants violated the Property Maintenance Code of the State of New York, which states that all “sidewalks, walkways, stairs, driveways, parking spaces and similar areas shall be kept in a proper state of repair, and maintained free from hazardous conditions.”

    The defendants appealed the decision of the New York Supreme Court which denied their request to dismiss the police officer’s case.

    The New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division 2nd Dept. ruled in favor of the police officer and found:

    1. The defendants violated section 302.3 of the Property Maintenance Code of the State of New York;
    2. The Police Officer slipped on a hazardous snow condition on the defendants’ front steps; and
    3. The Police Officer’s injuries were practically and reasonably connected to the defendants’ violation of section 302.3 of the Property Maintenance Code

    Our partners also represented Police Officer Byrne and after a jury trial obtained a verdict in favor of Police Officer Byrne in the amount of $1,500,000.

    Police Officers Can File Uninsured & Underinsured Claims

    When a police officer is injured because of a car accident, the police officer can obtain money from the uninsured or underinsured endorsement of the police officer’s personal car insurance policy.

    Example 1:  A police officer is injured by a car which had $25,000 insurance coverage. If the police officer has $300,000 underinsured coverage on his/her private vehicle, the police officer could obtain $25,000 from the offending vehicle and up to $275,000 from the underinsured coverage of the police officer’s personal auto insurance for a total of $300,000.

    Example 2: A police officer is injured by a car which was uninsured or a stolen car. The police officer can obtain money from the uninsured coverage of the police officer’s personal auto insurance.

    Find out if you have enough uninsured/underinsured coverage

    One Wrinkle — A police officer can only obtain money from the uninsured or underinsured coverage endorsement of his/her personal auto policy if the incident was an accident but not if the police officer was injured because of an intentional assault.

    In Matter of Empire Mut. Ins. Co. (Cona) 40 A.D.2d 963, 338 N.Y.S.2d 480, an unlicensed driver of a stolen car suddenly pulled away when the police officer attempted to remove the driver and the officer was dragged along by the car. Later at the police station, while attempting to escape again, the driver knocked the officer to the ground.

    The Supreme Court, Appellate Division held that the police officer’s injuries were not an accident but a result of an intentional assault, and thus were not covered by the uninsured motorist endorsement in the police officer’s auto insurance policy.

    I don’t agree with the Appellate Division that these events were the result of an intentional assault. However, I believe this case was poorly argued by the attorneys.

    For the purpose of the police officer being able to be compensated for his injury from his uninsured coverage, only the dragging incident need be an accident and not intentional. If knocking down the police officer at the police station was an intentional assault, that act would not have prevented the police officer from asserting an uninsured claim.

    A good argument can be made that it was an accident when the car sped away dragging the police officer.

    Looked at the dragging incident alone, it was likely an accident because it would have been the intent of the driver to escape, not to injure the officer. That means that the dragging incident was an accident which would have allowed the police officer to be compensated for his injuries.

    In reaching its decision that the dragging event was an intentional assault, the Appellate Division discussed in its decision that the officer was also knocked down at the police station. I believe this was an error for the following reasons:

    1. The dragging incident needs to be looked at individually without looking at what happened later. The fact that an intentional assault occurred later does not mean that the earlier incident was intentional.
    2. The Appellate Division specifically stated, “…later, while at the station house, once again [he] attempted to escape and again knocked claimant to the ground.” The fact that the perpetrator attempted to escape again indicates that he knocked the police officer to the ground in his attempt to escape and he did not knock the police officer to the ground with the intent to injure him.
    3. The fact that the Appellate Division stated “once again”, indicates the court’s conclusion that the dragging incident was an attempt to escape and not intent to assault.

    Police Officer Injured When RMP Struck By a Drunken Driver

    A Suffolk County Police Officer was injured when his RMP was hit by an alleged drunken driver in Mount Sinai. The driver is from Port Jefferson.

    When a police officer is injured by a drunk driver, an investigation must be commenced to determine where the drunk driver obtained alcohol.

    If the drunk driver was served alcohol at a bar, restaurant or other commercial establishment or was an employee of the bar, a lawsuit should be brought against the drunk driver, owner of the car and the bar.

    The drunk driver and the car may have a limited insurance policy but commercial establishments usually have at least $1 million insurance coverage and could have much more.

    When and Why Was GML 2O5-e Enacted?

    GML 2O5-e became effective September 7, 1999, and was enacted to correct the unjust “Fireman’s Rule or Firefighter’s Rule”.

    Where Can I Find GML 2O5-e?

    Read the General Municipal Law 205-e Right of police officers to sue for injuries

    What is the Firefighter’s Rule?

    The Firefighter’s Rule generally doesn’t apply anymore because of the enactment GML 205-e in 1999.

    The Firefighter’s Rule prevented police officers, firefighters, and other rescue personnel from recovering money for injuries caused by the negligence of someone else. The rule existed because police officers and firefighters willingly assume the risks inherent in their duties.

    Police Officers Injured off the Job

    Of course, police officers unfortunately also have accidents off the job. We represented many police officers from various police departments who were injured in accidents.

    We are well known in the motorcycle community and have also represented several motorcycle police officers.

    Motorcycle police officer before his accidentWe obtained a $425,000 jury verdict in Suffolk County for this motorcycle police officer who was off duty while riding his privately owned motorcycle.

    He broke his leg when his motorcycle struck the rear bumper of a car turning left in front of him. Although he hit the rear of the car and wasn’t wearing glasses which he was required to do, we obtained a court order ruling the driver of the car was 100% at fault.

    The attorney working for the NY Jury Verdict Review was so shocked that we won 100% liability, he left this message on our voice mail and sent me an email asking how we won.

    The insurance company offered $50,000 and $100,000 at trial. They were so upset that we won liability against the driver and the large verdict that they refused to pay us and threatened to appeal. They gave up 4 weeks later and paid the entire $425,000 verdict. Read more about the verdict we obtained for a motorcycle police officer.

    No matter what kind of accident or injury you have, call us for a free consultation.

    Injured on or off the Job?

    If you have been injured in the line of duty, call us now for a free consultation to find out if you may be able to file a lawsuit to recover money for personal injuries in addition to Worker’s Compensation.

    Of course, please call for a free consultation if you were injured while off duty.

    Call Attorney Phil Franckel days/nights/weekends for a free consultation

    Phil Franckel is a Personal Injury Attorney and Sgt., C.O. Communications
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