FDNY Sued over Sliding Pole Injury

An FDNY fire lieutenant who claims he hurt his back sliding down a wet pole last March, has filed suit against the city.

Christopher Cooke, 50, suffered a fractured vertebrae sliding the pole at Engine Co. 254.  Lt. Cooke claims the pole was wet from overspray during cleaning.

It is unclear from news reports what the basis for the suit is. In most states such a suit would be prohibited by the workers compensation exclusivity principle which limits an employee’s ability to recover in tort from an employer or co-workers for work related injuries. Exclusivity refers to the fact that workers comp benefits are the “exclusive remedy” for a work related injury… no suing your employer, supervisors or co-workers.

New York is unusual in so far as it recognizes an exception for injuries that result from the violation of a law. Here is the exception:

General Municipal Law § 205-a:

1. In addition to any other right of action or recovery under any other provision of law, in the event any accident, causing injury, death or a disease which results in death, occurs directly or indirectly as a  result of any neglect, omission, willful or culpable negligence of any person or persons in failing to  comply with the requirement of any of the statutes, ordinances, rules, orders and requirements of the  federal, state, county, village, town or city  governments or of any and all their departments, divisions and bureaus, the person or persons guilty of said neglect, omission, willful or culpable negligence at the time of such injury or death shall be liable to pay any  officer, member, agent or employee of any fire department injured, or whose life may be lost while in the discharge or performance at any time or place of any duty imposed by the fire commissioner, fire chief or other superior officer of the fire department, or to pay to the wife and children, or to pay to the parents, or to pay to the brothers and sisters, being the surviving heirs-at-law of any deceased person thus having lost his life, a sum of   money, in case of injury to person, not less than ten thousand dollars, and in case of death not less  than forty thousand  dollars, such liability to be determined and such sums recovered in an action to be instituted by any person injured or the family or relatives of any person killed as aforesaid.

    2.  Notwithstanding any other provision of law, including sections fifty-e and fifty-i of this chapter, section thirty-eight hundred thirteen of the education law, section ten of the court of claims act and the provisions of any general, special or local law or charter requiring as a condition precedent  to  commencement of an action or special proceeding that a notice of claim be filed or present, every  cause of action for the personal injury or wrongful death of a firefighter which was pending on or after January first, nineteen hundred eighty-seven, or which was dismissed on or after January first, nineteen  hundred eighty-seven, because this section was not yet effective, or which would have been actionable on or after January first, nineteen hundred eighty-seven had this section been effective is hereby  revived and an action thereon may be commenced at any time provided that such action is commenced on or before June thirtieth, two thousand.

    3.  This section shall be deemed to provide a right of action regardless of whether the injury or death is caused by the violation of a provision which codifies a common-law duty and regardless of whether the injury or death is caused by the violation of a provision prohibiting activities or conditions which increase the dangers already inherent in the work of any officer, member, agent or employee of any fire department.

My guess is § 205-a is the basis for the suit. Any of the NY folks want to weigh in? A copy of the complaint would be great as well.

More on the story.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 45 years of fire service experience and 35 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014, 4th ed. 2022) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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