Court Rules That Seeing Suspect Killed Is ‘Normal’ For Police

Under New York law as well as the law in several other states, for a stress disability to be covered by workers’ compensation, the stress experienced by the employee must be greater than that which usually occurs in the normal work environment. A recent case involving the East Greenbush, New York, Police Department demonstrated how that legal standard effectively precludes most stress claims by law enforcement officers.

The case involved Officer James Cook. In January 2009, Cook was called to the scene of an incident in which an armed suspect was firing shots at passing motorists and law enforcement officers. Cook and two fellow officers were then assigned to be part of a contact team, which approached the shooter from behind. With Cook acting as a spotter, the suspect was shot several times and died from those wounds.

Cook began to miss work on a regular basis in January 2010, and was diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder related to the January 2009 incident. Cook filed an application for workers’ compensation benefits, which was denied by the City. Cook then appealed the denial through the court system.

An appeals court rejected Cook’s claim. The Court observed that “whether the stress experienced by a claimant is more than that normally encountered is a factual question for the Workers’ Compensation Board to resolve, and its finding will not be disturbed when supported by substantial evidence. Here, although Cook’s supervisor described the particular circumstances of the encounter as ‘extraordinary,’ the regular course of duty for a police officer – no matter the size of the department – requires that he or she be on notice each day that deadly force may be required to subdue a suspect who is endangering public safety. Accordingly, we decline to disturb the Board’s decision denying Cook benefits.”

Cook v. East Greenbush Police Department, 114 A.D.3d 1005 (N.Y. A.D. 2014).