NY Firefighter Injured In Drill Competition Entitled to Comp and No More

The dismissal of a lawsuit filed by volunteer firefighter who was injured while preparing for a drill competition, has been upheld by the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court.  The suit was brought by William A. Knipper against the Drill Team of Lindenhurst Fire Department, Inc., the Lindenhurst Fire Department, Inc., Thomas Weckerle, and the Ridge Volunteer Fire Department, Inc.

As explained in the decision:

  • The plaintiff, a volunteer member of the defendants Drill Team of Lindenhurst Fire Department, Inc., and Lindenhurst Fire Department, Inc. allegedly was injured when he fell from the back of a fire truck operated by the defendant Thomas Weckerle, a fellow volunteer firefighter.
  • The accident occurred at a “fire track” allegedly owned by the defendant Ridge Fire District, sued herein as Ridge Volunteer Fire Department, Inc., during an event held in preparation for a firefighting competition.
  • Based on a determination by the Workers’ Compensation Board in February 2018 that the plaintiff was injured “in the line of duty,” he was awarded benefits under the Volunteer Firefighters’ Benefit Law.
  • In June 2018, the plaintiff commenced this action to recover damages for personal injuries against the Lindenhurst defendants, Weckerle, and Ridge District, among others, alleging …  Weckerle negligently operated the fire truck at a dangerous speed during preparations for the firefighting competition.
  • Thereafter, the Lindenhurst defendants, Weckerle, and Ridge District separately moved … to dismiss the amended complaint insofar as asserted against each of them.
  • In an order dated April 29, 2020, the Supreme Court granted those defendants’ motions. The plaintiff appeals.

The Appellate Division looked at two different ground for affirming the dismissal of the case. The case against the Ridge VFD was properly dismissed because it was established that the department did not own the property where the accident occurred. Hence there was no basis for the Ridge VFD to be liable.

As for Weckerle and the Lindhurst Fire Department and Drill Team, the court concluded that Knipper’s claims of negligence were barred by workers comp exclusivity. For those not familiar with workers comp exclusivity, it serves as a statutory prohibition of lawsuits by an employee subject to workers compensation, against his/her employer or coworkers. Said another way, workers compensation is the exclusive remedy for an employee injured at work with regard to an employer and coworkers. In New York, volunteer firefighters fall under Volunteer Firefighters’ Benefit Law, and that is their exclusive remedy.

Here is a copy of the decision:

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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