Opinion 92-15


This opinion represents the views of the Office of the State Comptroller at the time it was rendered. The opinion may no longer represent those views if, among other things, there have been subsequent court cases or statutory amendments that bear on the issues discussed in the opinion.

 

POLICE AND POLICE PROTECTION -- Disability Benefits (payment for partial disability attributable only in part to line-of-duty injury); (effect of workers' compensation determination)
WORKERS' COMPENSATION -- Compensation Award (effect on eligibility under General Municipal Law, §207-c) -- Disability Benefits (payment to deputy sheriff eligible for benefits under General Municipal Law, §207-c)

GENERAL MUNICIPAL LAW, §207-c; WORKERS' COMPENSATION LAW, §30(3): When a deputy sheriff is partially disabled as a result of a line-of-duty injury and an earlier injury incurred outside of county service, the deputy is eligible for benefits under General Municipal Law, §207-c if the line-of-duty injury contributed to the disability in a substantial degree. When determining eligibility for section 207-c benefits, a county that has been a party to a workers' compensation proceeding is bound by the determinations necessarily made in that proceeding. When a deputy sheriff is determined eligible for benefits under the Workers' Compensation Law, and then under section 207-c, the county is liable under section 207-c for the difference between the deputy sheriff's regular salary or wages and the total weekly compensation payable to the deputy, but the county should have no additional liability for medical expenses. 1978 Opns St Comp No. 79-571, unreported is superseded to the extent inconsistent.

You ask whether a county is required to provide benefits pursuant to General Municipal Law, §207-c to a deputy sheriff who has been determined partially disabled in a workers' compensation proceeding. The workers' compensation proceeding determined that the partial disability is 25% attributable to a knee injury sustained during county service and 75% attributable to an earlier injury incurred while working for a different employer. The county self-insures workers' compensation claims and accepts the attribution of the injury made in the workers' compensation proceeding.

General Municipal Law, §207-c(1) provides, in relevant part, that a county must pay to a deputy sheriff who is injured in the performance of duty the full amount of his or her regular salary or wages until the disability ceases. Section 207-c(1) also provides that the county is liable for all medical treatment and hospital care necessitated by reason of such injury.

It is well established that section 207-c benefits must be provided in the case of partial disability (see Rosato v Hasenhauer, 120 Misc 2d 856, 466 NYS2d 885; Rosinsky v City of Binghamton, 74 Misc 2d 187, 338 NYS2d 683). Eligibility for such benefits, however, depends on a "causalconnection" between an injury incurred in the performance of duty and the disability (see Di Cocco v City of Schenectady, 175 AD2d 365, 572 NYS2d 438; Callas v City of Elmira, 88 AD2d 1015, 451 NYS2d 922, construing similar provisions of General Municipal Law, §207-a relating to paid firefighters). When the disability is attributable to both a line-of-duty injury and a pre-existing non-work related condition, section 207-c benefits must be provided if the job-related accident caused or contributed to the disability in a substantial degree (see McNamara v City of Syracuse, 60 AD2d 753, 400 NYS2d 604; see also Geremski v Department of Fire of City of Syracuse, 72 Misc 2d 165, 338 NYS2d 543, affd 42 AD2d 1050, 348 NYS2d 742, lv denied 33 NY2d 521, 353 NYS2d 1025, construing General Municipal Law, §207-a; cf. 12 ALR 4th 1194-1196).

Eligibility for benefits under section 207-c must be determined, in the first instance, by the municipality (see Schenectady County Sheriff's Benevolent Association v McEvoy, 124 AD2d 911, 508 NYS2d 663). In a series of cases brought to compel municipalities to provide section 207-c benefits to police officers previously awarded workers' compensation, however, the courts have held the policemen entitled to section 207-c benefits on the basis of determinations made in the prior workers' compensation proceedings (see Maresco v Rozzi, 166 AD2d 534, 556 NYS2d 731; Crawford v Sheriff's Department, Putnam County, 152 AD2d 382, 548 NYS2d 734, lv denied 76 NY2d 704, 559 NYS2d 734; Rosato, supra; Rosinsky, supra). The rationale for these decisions is that the workers' compensation proceeding necessarily determined that the police officer was injured in the course of duty and disabled as a result of that injury (see Workers' Compensation Law, §10) and that such determinations are binding on the municipality in the subsequent section 207-c proceeding because the municipality is collaterally estopped from relitigating issues determined between the parties in the workers' compensation proceeding (see Rosinsky, supra; cf. Kane v City of Binghamton, 62 AD2d 1122, 404 NYS2d 432 [collateral estoppel inapplicable when municipality not party in interest to workers' compensation proceeding and not provided a full and fair opportunity to contest issues in that proceeding]; Barson v Regan, ___ AD2d ___, 580 NYS2d 567 [award of retirement benefits pursuant to Retirement and Social Security Law, §363-c does not mandate benefits under General Municipal Law, §207-a]). Therefore, when a county is a party to a workers' compensation proceeding, the county is bound by the determinations necessarily made in that proceeding when subsequently determining eligibility for section 207-c benefits. We hereby supersede 1978 Opns St Comp No. 78-571, unreported, to the extent inconsistent with this conclusion.

In this instance, it appears that the county was a party to the workers' compensation proceeding (see Workers' Compensation Law, §§20, 24; 12 NYCRR 300.8) and that such proceeding determined that the deputy sheriff's disability is 25% attributable to an injury sustained in the course of county service. Thus, the county is bound by the determination necessarily made in that proceeding that there is a causal connection between the line-of-duty injury and the deputy's disability. Therefore, assuming the workers' compensation proceeding determined, either expressly or by implication, that the line-of-duty injury contributed in a substantial degree to the deputy sheriff's disability, then the deputy is entitled to section 207-c benefits.

As to the relationship between the county's obligations under section 207-c and its obligations under the Workers' Compensation Law, we note that both statutes require the county to make cash payments to the deputy sheriff and to pay the deputy sheriff's medical expenses (see General Municipal Law, §207-c[1]; Workers' Compensation Law, §§10, 13-15). Workers' Compensation Law, §30(3), however, provides, in relevant part, that in the case of an award of workers' compensation to a member of a police force of any county, any salary or wages paid to, or the cost of any medical treatment or hospital care provided for, such member pursuant to section 207-c must be credited against "any award of compensation" to such member. The purpose of this provision is to prevent double recovery by a police officer of workers' compensation benefits and benefits under section 207-c (see Rosinsky, supra; see also Birmingham v City of Niagara Falls, 282 App Div 970, 125 NYS2d 692; 1982 Opns St Comp No. 82-92, p 113).

Based on the purpose of section 30(3), we have previously concluded that when a police officer is awarded weekly workers' compensation benefits and is subsequently determined eligible for section 207-c benefits, the municipality is required to pay only the difference between the police officer's full regular salary or wages and the weekly compensation benefits, both retroactively to the time of the accident (see Opn No. 82-92, supra) and prospectively (see 1980 Opns St Comp No. 80-706, unreported; see also 1974 Opns St Comp No. 74-1152, unreported). Similarly, when responsibility for a deputy sheriff's weekly compensation benefits has been apportioned between a self-insured county and another party and the line-of-duty injury contributed in a substantial degree to the disability, we believe the county is liable retroactively for the difference between the deputy's full regular salary or wages and the total weekly compensation paid by both the county and the other party. The county is also liable prospectively for an amount equal to its share of the weekly workers' compensation plus the difference between the deputy's regular salary or wages and the total weekly compensation payable by the county and the other party. In our view, this conclusion is consistent with section 30(3) which requires section 207-c benefits to be credited against "any award of compensation" (emphasis supplied) and which is intended to avoid double recovery.

As to medical expenses, we note that although section 30(3) literally requires section 207-c medical expenses to be credited against an award of "compensation" (see Workers' Compensation Law, §2[6]), the credit has been held applicable to medical expenses payable under the Workers' Compensation Law (see Leone v Oneida County Sheriff's Department, 166 AD2d 74, 569 NYS2d 938, lv granted 78 NY2d 857, 574 NYS2d 938). Also, consistent with the intent of Workers' Compensation Law, §30(3), we believe that when responsibility for a deputy sheriff's workers' compensation medical expenses has been apportioned between a self-insured county and another party, and the deputy is subsequently determined eligible for section 207-c benefits, the county remains responsible only for its share of the workers' compensation medical expenses. The county should have no additional liability for medical expenses under section 207-c so long as the workers' compensation benefits payable by the county and the third party encompass all medical expenses attributable to the line-of-duty injury.

June 2, 1992
Richard Grant, Personnel Officer
Delaware County