Cop denied benefits for Superstorm Sandy rescue injuries goes to court
Officer James Kelly suffered neck and shoulder injuries in October 2012 as he helped a family trapped in its collapsing home during Superstorm Sandy
ALBANY, N.Y. — A New York police officer denied disability retirement benefits after being injured rescuing a family during Superstorm Sandy deserves them because he wasn't trained for such rescue work, his lawyer argued Tuesday before the state's highest court.
Attorney Joseph Dougherty told the seven-member Court of Appeals that Orangetown Police Officer James Kelly suffered neck and shoulder injuries in October 2012 as he helped a family trapped in its collapsing Rockland County home. With one resident dead and conditions delaying the arrival of rescue crews, Kelly was hurt as he removed debris off injured residents and deflected a falling rafter from hitting his partner, Dougherty said.
A lower court upheld the state's denial of his application for accidental disability retirement, or ADR, saying Kelly's injuries were a result of "risks inherent to being a police officer." Kelly is appealing that ruling.
Kelly is eligible for the enhanced pension benefits because he was injured as the result of an on-duty accident, Dougherty said. The lawyer argued that Kelly, unlike firefighters and other emergency responders, hadn't been trained for such situations, therefore the falling rafter wasn't a "foreseeable" event.
"My client was never asked to do ... what he had to do that day," Dougherty said.
The court also heard arguments in a similar case in which the state comptroller's office is appealing a lower court's annulment of the denial of ADR benefits for a Yonkers firefighter. The lower court ruled that Pat Sica was eligible for the benefits because he suffered a heart ailment from being exposed to toxic gases while responding to an emergency at a supermarket in September 2001.
The comptroller's office argued that Sica's injuries resulted from risks inherent to his duties as a firefighter and emergency medical technician trained to handle chemical incidents.
Decisions on the cases aren't expected until later this year.