A police officer of the New York City Police Department was walking from the station to the parking lot adjacent to the station. The parking lot was leased by the NYPD from its owner to be used as a parking lot for police cars. On the evening of June 16, 2002, as the police officer was leaving the station to get into the police car to start his patrol shift, he tripped and fell on a pothole. He suffered a physical injury as a result of this trip and fall.
He filed a suit against the NYPD and the owner of the parking lot. He claimed indemnity for injury under Labor Law and common law negligence. He claims that the injury he suffered was due to the failure of the lot owner to maintain the parking lot in a reasonably safe condition. He claims that the parking lot owner’s negligence was a violation of General Municipal Law as well as the New York City Administrative Code.
After pre-trial and discovery, the police officer moved for a summary judgment on the issue of liability under General Municipal Law 205-e. He submitted photographs of the manhole with a growth of grass around it. He claimed that the growth of grass is evidence that the pothole has been there for a reasonably long time such that it may be inferred that the parking lot owner had constructive and actual notice of the existing dangerous condition posed by the pothole.
The trial court denied the motion for summary judgment on the basis only of the photograph of the growth of grass around the pothole in the parking lot. It held that the photograph of and by itself do not give evidence on the time that has lapsed. An expert witness has to testify on the rate of the growth of grass for the trial court to determine how much time had elapsed. The trial court denied his motion for summary judgment.
The City of New York and the parking lot owner both moved for a summary judgment of dismissal of the complaint on the ground that the police officer’s suit is barred by the Firefighter’s Rule. This rule bars firefighters and police officers from bringing a suit to recover damages under common law negligence when they were injured while doing acts in furtherance of a firefighting or police function which exposed them to a heightened risk of being injured.
The Firefighter’s Rule only means that police officers and firefighters cannot sue for negligence if the injury they sustained was sustained while they were fulfilling their firefighting or policing duties that exposed them to increased risk of injury. It bars claims of negligence that come out of the specific dangers that usually come with police work. But when the injury was sustained in the line-of-duty but not related at all to the assured risks of police duty, the police officer can still claim damages.
The Court held here that the police officer here was injured when he had a trip and a fall caused by a pothole in the police parking lot but the injury was unrelated to the assumed risks of police duty. So, the motion for summary judgment of dismissal of the complaint filed by the City of New York and the parking lot owner were correctly denied by the trial court.
The police officer also brought an alternative claim against the New York Police Force under Labor Law for its failure to furnish its employees with a place of employment which is free from recognized hazards. Both the City of New York and the parking lot owner moved for a summary dismissal of this branch of the complaint as well. They argued that the police officer cannot recover damages under both the General Municipal Law and Labor Law as well inasmuch as the firefighter’s rule bars recovery for damages under those two laws as well.
In denying the motion for summary judgment of dismissal on this cause of action, the Court pointed out that the injury sustained by the police officer did not arise from the special risks of his job as a police officer. He was just walking from the station to the parking lot. Both are places where he normally does his job. Both those places are premises of his workplace and the police officer has a reasonable expectation that he would be safe there because his employer has the duty of keeping the place of his work safe from conditions that may cause him injury.
The Court resolved to deny the motion for a summary judgment of dismissal by the New York City Police Department and the parking lot owner of the causes of action of the police officer under Labor Law and under common law negligence. All other claims under the New York Administrative Code are dismissed. The case is remanded for trial on the issues of fact of the existence of a dangerous condition and the issue of the actual or constructive notice of the defect on the defendants. The police officer’s motion for summary judgment against the defendants is also denied as there are still issues of fact that need to be tried.
Even those tasked to execute the law such as police officers can suffer injuries from the negligence of others. While they may not able to obtain compensation for injuries they sustain in the course of fulfilling their duties, they can still sue for injuries they suffer. Know your options, know your recourse under the law. Stephen Bilkis & Associates have New York Trip and Fall lawyers standing by to advise, guide and help you. Their Trip and Fall attorneys in the New York area can help you build your case and argue it in court.