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Police Officers Not Entitled To Double Recovery after Collateral Source Hearing (NY)

June 28, 2018

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In <em><a href="http://blog.wcmlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Andino-v.-Mills.pdf">Andino v. Mills</a></em>, the Court of Appeals tackled the question of whether a New York City police officer’s accident disability retirement (ADR) benefits are a collateral source that offsets a jury award for future lost earnings and pension.  In a highly divided decision, the Court found that CPLR §4545 should apply and ADR benefits operate to replace earnings during the period when the retiree could have been employed, absent the disabling injury.  Additionally, it also serves as pension allotments, and so a court must offset a retiree’s projected ADR benefits against the jury award for both categories of economic loss.
Plaintiff Andino was injured on duty while riding in a police car that collided with a New York City Transit Authority vehicle operated by defendant Ronald Mills.  Defendant was found 100% responsible for the accident.  The jury awarded plaintiff past and future lost earnings, past and future pain and suffering, future medical expenses, and future loss of pension.  Defendants moved to offset the jury award pursuant to CPLR §4545 which allows a court to reduce damages if the party will be compensated or indemnified from a collateral source.  The Supreme Court denied the motion relying on the Court of Appeals’ holding in <em>Oden v. Chemung County</em>.  The Appellate Division partially reversed and the offset reduced the award of future pension benefits to zero, but denied an offset as to future lost earnings.  All parties appealed.
New York City police officers are not entitled to workers’ compensation and as such, ADR benefits kick in when an officer suffers a work-related injury.  ADR benefits are lifetime payments and when the recipient becomes eligible for pension benefits, it serves as a pension as opposed to a salary.  The Court found that while <em>Oden</em> requires a direct correspondence between the item of loss and the collateral disbursement, the core principle of <em>Oden</em> requires one to look at the nature, not the label, of the compensation.  Additionally, the purpose of CPLR §4545 is to prevent duplicative recovery as the goal of tort law is just compensation, not punishment and/or deterrence.
The dissent’s main issue is that police officers are entitled to their pension after 20 years of service and then typically take on private sector work.  By reducing plaintiff’s award, the she is undercompensated for the employment she could have obtained post-retirement.  The dissent would take a much narrower interpretation of <em>Oden</em> and not label ADR as compensation for future lost earnings as 3 years after the jury verdict, plaintiff could have retired with her full pension and taken on additional employment.  Given the high rate of compensation of police officers, this is a huge win for defendants in collateral source hearings. Thanks to Mehreen Hayat for her contribution to this post.  Please email <a href="mailto:BGibbons@wcmlaw.com">Brian Gibbons</a> with any questions.

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