Legal Report by Milan Rada, Esq. and Joseph S. Bavaro, Esq.
HOW THE LAW PROTECTS POLICE OFFICERS INJURED IN THE PERFORMANCE OF THEIR DUTIES: General Municipal Law 205-e
If a police officer is injured by a third party (someone who is not the employer, someone who is not the agent of the employer or someone not a co-employee) while in the course of his or her duties, there is a statute unique to New York State which can protect the officer and in many cases, make it easier to win a personal injury lawsuit for the officer.
The statute is General Municipal Law §205-e. GML §205-e basically states that: If a police officer is injured in the line of duty, and that injury was caused by a violation of a statute or ordinance, the officer can recover from the violator if the violation of that statute directly or indirectly caused the injury. Additionally, once the violation of the statute is proven, the defendants cannot assert many important defenses.
This has become an important statute, and three recent cases that my firm has handled for Nassau County Police Officers illustrate how this works: In Byrne v. Nicosia, 104 A.D.3d 717 (2d. Dept. 2013) a Nassau County Police Officer was responding to a burglar alarm and slipped on ice and snow, injuring himself. The homeowner failed to remove the ice and snow in violation of §302.3 of the Property Maintenance Code. The Court held that the police officer was entitled to summary judgment on liability and that a trial was only necessary to establish damages.
Had a normal citizen slipped on the snow and ice, the homeowner would be entitled to various defenses. The homeowner could have stated that the citizen did not look where he was going or appreciate the risk of climbing stairs that were not clear of ice and snow. Because of GML § 205-e, the homeowner was not allowed to assert these defenses against the police officer.. Once we proved that the homeowner violated the Property Maintenance Code by failing to remove the ice and snow, the Plaintiff (police officer) was awarded summary judgment and the case was tried only as to the amount of compensation.
In Stanganelli v. United States, 2015 WL 4629255 (E.D.N.Y. 2015), we represented a Nassau County police officer who was performing a “step out” traffic stop. The officer pulled a vehicle over for speeding. The speeding vehicle was driven by a plain-clothed DEA agent. As the speeder was stopping, another vehicle behind the speeder pulled around and struck the officer standing in the road.
Because of GML §205-e, the speeding vehicle that did not strike the officer was deemed just as responsible for the accident as the striking vehicle itself. Under normal circumstances, the speeding vehicle could not be responsible for the accident because the striking vehicle would have been the only responsible party. However, the Courts held that GML § 205-e would make the violators of the Vehicle and Traffic Law (speeding) just as responsible as the striking vehicle since a statute was violated and it directly or indirectly led to the injury.(The Courts have held that in order to assert a claim under 205-e, “a plaintiff must  identify the statute or ordinance with which the defendant failed to comply,  describe the manner in which the [police officer] was injured, and  set forth those facts from which it may be inferred that the defendant’s negligence directly or indirectly caused the harm.” Stanganelli v. United States, 2015 WL 4629255 at *5 (E.D.N.Y. 2015).
In Califano v. Gago, et. al, our office represented a Nassau County Police Officer who was tragically killed while performing a traffic stop of a box truck. The box truck had malfunctioning cabin lights in violation of the Vehicle and Traffic Law. While seated in his patrol car completing the traffic stop paperwork, a flatbed truck driven by one of the defendants slammed into the rear of the patrol car, killing the officer. The family of the police officer was able to maintain a personal injury action against not only the flatbed truck, but the boxcar originally pulled over by the officer.
In this case, the theory was that the officer was put in this position of peril because of the box truck’s violation of the Vehicle and Traffic Law. Since GML §205-e dictates that a violation which directly or indirectly caused the injury would qualify, the family of the officer was able to be compensated by all parties directly or indirectly responsible, which included both the flatbed truck as well as the box truck.
Thankfully, in New York State, the law recognizes the dangers faced by our men and women in blue. Police officers and the families of police officers can take a measure of comfort in knowing that if they are hurt or killed in the line of duty, their loved ones may able to see that justice is done and fair compensation is awarded.
The Nassau County PBA Newsletter will not publish in July and August. Have a wonderful and safe summer and if any topics come to mind that you would like to see addressed in The Legal Report please let me know by calling me at 516-941-4403 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Likewise, if you have any questions about this or any other Legal Report, please contact Milan Rada, Esq., at 516-941-4403 or by email at email@example.com.