The Third Department, in a full-fledged opinion by Justice Garry, determined the two falls by petitioner police officer were not compensable “accidents” within the meaning of the Retirement and Social Security Law and petitioner was not entitled to accidental disability retirement benefits. The opinion discusses in some depth the difficulties of determining what is and what is not an “accident” in this context:
… [P]etitioner testified … he was assigned to the midnight shift and was in his patrol car when, at approximately 1:00 a.m., he became suspicious upon observing a light coming from the second floor of a house that was under construction. According to petitioner, it was “very dark” around the house due to the lack of streetlights in the area. Petitioner took a flashlight and began walking around the perimeter of the house, illuminating the second floor of the house as he walked, in accordance with police protocol. As he continued walking the perimeter of the house, petitioner fell in a three-foot-deep hole in the ground that had been dug alongside the house. As petitioner’s regular employment duties included conducting investigations in the dark, the risk that he might fall due to an unseen condition while engaged in such activity is an inherent risk of that employment … .
… [P]etitioner testified that, at approximately 2:00 a.m. … , he was investigating a report of a “suspicious party going through cars in a parking lot.” According to petitioner, it was drizzling that morning, and the area of the parking lot was dark. Petitioner was using a flashlight and, as he descended a wooden stairway that connected the parking lot to a baseball field, he was illuminating the field with the flashlight when he slipped and fell. Petitioner testified that, after his fall, he observed “green algae [and] mold,” as well as leaves, on the stairs. “When carrying out some police duties, an officer on foot may encounter, as part of the work being performed, a vast array of conditions, many of which are not easily traversed and can cause a fall. Encountering such conditions while actively engaged in police duties often is not an unexpected event, and the Comptroller may find a fall caused thereby to be an inherent risk of the job” … . Matter of Compagnone v DiNapoli, 2023 NY Slip Op 00354, Third Dept 1-26-23
Practice Point: This opinion should be consulted when trying to determine what constitutes a compensable “accident” within the meaning of the Retirement and Social Security Law.