Motorcycle Crash Not ‘Accident’

New York’s disability and retirement system gives greater benefits to officers and firefighters who are disabled as a result of an “accident.” Over the years, New York courts have defined an “accident” as a “sudden, fortuitous mischance, unexpected and out of the ordinary. An accident will not be found when the event precipitating the injury is a risk of the applicant’s ordinary employment duties.”

Paul Grutzner was a police officer with the Westchester County Department of Public Safety. Grutzner was riding a motorized dirt bike as part of a parkland motorcycle security detail and fell when the bike “kicked-out” while descending a hill strewn with rocks and gravel. Grutzner chose that route because he “had done so many times before” and it “was the easiest way.”

A court found that Grutzner’s crash was not an “accident.” The Court explained that Grutzner, “an accomplished motorcycle rider, had ridden down the hill approximately three times earlier that day and the vehicle was designed to travel over dirt, rocks and gravel. He was unable to explain why the incident occurred. Under these circumstances, the retirement board reasonably concluded that the incident resulted from an activity undertaken in the performance of ordinary employment duties.”

Grutzner also claimed that his disability was due to an event where he was injured after attempting to kick open a locked door while executing an arrest warrant. The Court rejected this claim as well, holding: “Given that Grutzner had done so 150 to 200 times before, the incident was not the kind of sudden and unexpected event that constitutes an accident.”

Grutzner v. Murray, 889 N.Y.S.2d 739 (N.Y. A.D. 2009).

This article appears in the February 2010 issue