State Supreme Court Judge Awards Benefits to Correction Officer Who Sustained Serious Injuries During the Performance of His Duties

New York, New York July 31, 2002 - A Rockland County Correction Officer who was seriously injured while responding to an inmate disturbance, and who was subsequently denied Section 207-c benefits by the Rockland County Sheriffs Department, deserves all requested benefits, a State Supreme Court Justice has ruled. According to the Court’s decision, “This Court necessarily must find that respondents denial of Section 207-c benefits to petitioner was arbitrary and capricious, not rationally based, and an abuse of discretion.”

Correction Officer Dary Blanks suffered severe injuries to both his neck and back while assisting five other officers who were responding to an inmate disturbance on August 5, 1995. During the disturbance, the inmate struck one of the responding officers with a chair and a coffee pot. Immediately, Officer Blanks grabbed the inmate around his chest in an attempt to subdue him. The inmate continued to wail his arms and legs, at one point propelling Officer Blanks backwards onto the metal frame of the inmate’s bed.

While Officer Blanks continued to work after the incident, the injuries sustained to both his neck and back grew progressively worse, forcing him to seek continuous treatment from a number of specialists. According to a medical report performed by one of Mr. Blanks’ chiropractors, “based on the history of the accident as presented and examination findings, the examinees condition is a direct result of the accident of issue.” Subsequently, in September of 1996 Mr. Blanks filed a workers’ compensation claim and was awarded medical benefits thereafter.

Despite his unbearable discomfort, Mr. Blanks continued to work until the pain became so unbearable, given the physical nature of his duties, that he was forced to make two more visits to two different chiropractors, one in 2000 and the second in 2001. Following an MRI evaluation, which revealed that Mr. Blanks had, among other things, “broad based disc bulging” in his spine, Mr. Banks then filed for benefits under General Municipal Law Section 207-c.

The purpose behind Section 207-c is to compensate specified municipal employees for injuries incurred in the performance of special work, related to the nature or heightened risks and duties. A month later, the Rockland County Sheriff’s Review Board informed officer Blanks that his request had been denied because “there is no medical documentation relating to a present casual relationship being established.”

In response to the denial of benefits, Koehler & Isaacs’ attorney, Joey Jackson, filed an Article 78 petition challenging the board’s claim on the basis that their decision was, “arbitrary and capricious and an abuse of discretion, given the substantial trail of medical documentation provided by Mr. Blanks. The causal link between officer Blanks’ injuries and the 1995 incident was unquestionable.”

Attorneys for the Rockland County’s Sheriff’s Department rested their argument for denying Mr. Banks’ 207-c benefits, primarily on the fact that it took the officer over six years to file for 207-c benefits. However, as Mr. Jackson noted, in his arguments, neither General Municipal Law Section 207-c nor Section II of the Rockland County Jail’s procedures, set forth any time frame or statute of limitation period for filing of benefits under Section 207-c.

Ultimately, State Supreme Court Justice, Andrew P. O’Rourke, concurred with Mr. Jackson noting, “rather than punishing petitioner for his delay in seeking benefits, as respondent implicitly suggests is appropriate, petitioner’s restraint in seeking benefits should be lauded as being in the public’s best interests.”

Speaking on behalf of officer Blanks and all Rockland County Correction Officers, the President of Rockland County Correction Officers Benevolent Association, William Hickey remarked, “This decision is a victory for all members of law enforcement who consistently put the public’s safety ahead of their own, during the performance of their dangerous duties.”