The Court of Appeals, in a full-fledged opinion by Judge Lippman, determined that collateral-estoppel effect should not be given to a finding by the Workers’ Compensation Board in a related negligence action. Plaintiff, a delivery person, had been struck by a piece of plywood which fell from a building under construction in 2003. The Workers’ Compensation Board found that plaintiff’s disability from the accident ceased as of January, 2006. In the related negligence action, the defendant sought to limit plaintiff’s proof of disability to the period prior to January, 2006. The court held “that there is no identity of issue and that collateral estoppel therefore should not be applied:”
…[D]efendants have failed to meet their burden of establishing that the issue decided in the workers’ compensation proceeding was identical to that presented in this negligence action. We have observed that the Workers’ Compensation Law “is the State’s most general and comprehensive social program, enacted to provide all injured employees with some scheduled compensation and medical expenses, regardless of fault for ordinary and unqualified employment duties” … . The purpose of awarding such benefits is to provide funds on an expedited basis that will function as a substitute for an injured employee’s wages … . We have observed that the term “disability,” as used in the Workers’ Compensation Law, “generally refers to inability to work” … . In addition, the Board uses the term “disability” in order to make classifications according to degree (total or partial) and duration (temporary or permanent) of an employee’s injury … . The focus of the act, plainly, is on a claimant’s ability to perform the duties of his or her employment.
By contrast, a negligence action is much broader in scope. It is intended to make an injured party whole for the enduring consequences of his or her injury — including, as relevant here, lost income and future medical expenses. Necessarily, then, the negligence action is focused on the larger question of the impact of the injury over the course of plaintiff’s lifetime. Although there is some degree of overlap between the issues being determined in the two proceedings, based on the scope and focus of each type of action, it cannot be said that the issues are identical. Auqui v Seven Thirty One Limited Partnership, 212, CtApp 12-10-13