The Tough Standard For ‘Accidental’ Disabilities

New York is one of several states that provides an enhanced pension if a public safety employee suffers from an “accidental disability.” A recent case illustrates that the burden of proving that a disability was incurred “accidentally” is a high one.

Vinicio Del Salto, a police officer, responded to a report of a woman attempting to cash a fraudulent check at a bank. Upon observing an individual matching the description of the suspect walking down the street away from the bank, Del Salto approached the individual from behind. After she refused to stop, Del Salto grabbed her arm with his right hand. She then quickly jerked away from Del Salto and he felt a sharp pain in his neck and shoulder areas.

A struggle ensued and Del Salto ultimately placed the individual under arrest. Del Salto thereafter applied for accidental disability retirement benefits, citing injuries to his neck, left and right shoulders, right elbow and right wrist. When his application was rejected, Del Salto appealed through the New York state court system.

An appeals court upheld the rejection of Del Salto’s application. The Court noted that Del Salto bore the burden of proving that his injuries were accidental, “in that they were caused by a sudden and extraordinary event that is unrelated to the ordinary risks of employment. An incident does not qualify as an accident within the meaning of the Retirement and Social Security Law where the injury results from an expected or foreseeable event arising from the performance of routine employment duties.

“Del Salto contends that he is entitled to accidental disability retirement benefits because he was injured as the result of an assault, and not as the result of the performance of his duties as a police officer. The record reflects, however, that Del Salto was injured while attempting to detain an individual suspected of committing a crime. Inasmuch, Del Salto’s injury was caused by physical contact of the sort that is inherent in the routine performance of his duties.”

Del Salto v. DiNapoli, 982 N.Y.S.2d 796 (A.D. 2014).