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Law Offices of Jonathan M. Cooper

When a Workers' Comp Board's Negative Finding Won't Bar a NY Negligence Claim

Just because a Workers Compensation Board found that you have no lingering disability doesn't inherently mean your personal injury case is DOA - at least under New York law.
 
Defendants who do their homework in the context of personal injury cases will seize upon a finding of no serious injury in an effort to demonstrate that you in fact weren't seriously hurt. In theory, that can be damaging to a personal injury case, particularly in the realm of auto accident cases, because New York's courts are obliged to dismiss those cases where the plaintiff did not suffer a "serious injury" in accordance with Insurance Law sections 5102 and 5104.
 
In a decision that was handed down by the Court of Appeals on December 10, 2013, however, the Court specifically held that a Workers' Compensation Board finding isn't necessarily binding in the context of a negligence action because the focus, and the nature of the proof, in the two tribunals, is very different:
 
"We have observed that the term "disability," as used in the Workers' Compensation Law, "generally refers to inability to work" (Rubeis v Aqua Club, Inc., 3 NY3d 408, 417 [2004]). In addition, the Board uses the term "disability" in order to make classifications according to degree (total or partial) and duration (temporary or permanent) of an employee's injury (see Martin Minkowitz, Practice Commentaries, McKinney's Cons Laws of NY, Book 64, Workers' Compensation Law § 15 at 44). The focus of the act, plainly, is on a claimant's ability to perform the duties of his or her employment.
 
"By contrast, a negligence action is much broader in scope. It is intended to make an injured party whole for the enduring consequences of his or her injury -- including, as relevant here, lost income and future medical expenses. Necessarily, then, the negligence action is focused on the larger question of the impact of the injury over the course of plaintiff's lifetime. Although there is some degree of overlap between the issues being determined in the two proceedings, based on the scope and focus of each type of action, it cannot be said that the issues are identical."
 
 

Jonathan Cooper
Employment Litigation and School Negligence Lawyer