Police and Firefighter Municipal Claims

I am a police officer who was injured during an arrest. I was working with three other officers to arrest a mentally disturbed person who was belligerent to other people. During the arrest, one of my fellow officers discharged a taser into me by accident. I had some unknown cardiac issues, so I am unable to return to work. Do I have a claim?

Unfortunately the answer is probably not. The answer involves a story dating back decades. But the following is a brief sketch into the history of these types of claims.

Police and Firefighters for many years were not allowed to sue for negligence for personal injuries sustained in the course of their duties against any entity or person. Police and Fireman were and are covered by “line of duty” benefits for injuries sustained in the course of their duties. The policy was that those “line of duty” benefits (which included medical care and short term disability benefits, as well as long term disability: three-quarter pay) were the only benefits Police and Firefighters were entitled to claim.

Then the legislature enacted General Municipal Law § 205-e. This was the original law which authorized private claims for Police and Firefighters against negligent parties for causing injuries to Police and Firefighters. Thus a Firefighter could sue a building owner for violating building codes which caused a fire. Police could sue owners of parking lots for a hazard which caused a trip and fall accident. The problem for municipalities were new claims that Firefighters and Police could now bring that they were never able to bring before.

Eventually, the law developed through Court decisions which held that Police and Firefighters could still bring claims for “negligent non-compliance with well developed bodies of law and regulation which impose clear duties.”  Galapo v City of New York, 95 NY2d 568. This meant that a plaintiff (Firefighter or Police) would have to plead and prove a violation of a law or regulation. The more difficult question has been defining a “clear duty.” The Courts have dismissed many cases in which a plaintiff (Police or Firefighter) pleads and proves a violation of a law or regulation (against a municipality), but Courts have held that the law or regulation did not define a “clear duty.” Thus, a Police or Firefighter could not bring a claim against a municipality.

Then the legislature enacted General Obligations Law § 11-106. The statute itself permits negligence claims against all parties except the municipality (and all other fellow Police or Firefighters) for which the Police or Firefighters work. The legislative history of this statute is clear: the statute explicitly denies claims against municipalities by the Firefighters and Police.

Thus, the only possible claim is under General Municipal Law § 205-e and that claim is not likely.