In Cerati v. Berrios, the Appellate Division, Second Department upheld a lower Court decision which allowed a New York City Police Officer to sue an intoxicated driver even though the driver did not “directly” cause the Officer’s injuries.Police Officer Maureen Cerati, 106th Precinct, responded to a one car accident on the Belt Parkway. The driver of the vehicle was intoxicated and killed his passenger when he lost control of his vehicle causing the vehicle to overturn. Officer Cerati proceeded to safeguard the accident scene before Accident Investigation arrived by placing flares at the scene. Another driver drove past the warnings and struck Officer Cerati causing serious injuries which necessitated her being awarded a ¾ line-of-duty disability pension. Officer Cerati sued the driver who struck her and recovered the limits of his insurance policy. DCD did not take a fee in this recovery. Decolator, Cohen & DiPrisco, LLP also sued the driver which caused her to be at the scene, the intoxicated driver. General Municipal Law §205-e, the Police Officer’s Right to Sue Statute, permits an injured Officer to sue a third party if the person’s underlying conduct was unlawful and the unlawful conduct directly or indirectly caused the Officer’s injuries. The Appellate Division stressed that if there is a “reasonable or practicable” connection between the unlawful conduct and the injury, the Officer is permitted to sue. Despite a protracted legal battle, the insurance company representing the drunk driver, relented at jury selection and settled the case for the full limits of the insurance policy.
The importance of Cerati’s law cannot be overlooked. This case effectively expands a Police Officer’s right to sue in line-of-duty accident cases. If an Officer is injured while responding to a job where there is underlying unlawful conduct, the Officer may be able to sue the individual or corporation committing the underlying unlawful conduct if there is a reasonable or practicable connection between the Officer’s injuries and the unlawful conduct, even if that individual or corporation did not directly cause the Officer’s injury.
In another case involving the Cerati law, DCD was able to persuade a Kings County Supreme Court Justice to allow a case to proceed to trial after a Brooklyn North Police Officer was injured when she was struck by a car while issuing a no seat belt summons to another motorist. In Reynolds v. Pena, Officer Reynolds conducted a car stop and was in the process of issuing a summons to motorist Andre Ray when another motorist, Violeta Pena, struck her vehicle injuring Officer Reynolds. Officer Reynolds sued Violeta Pena and also sued Andre Ray, the individual who caused Officer Reynolds to stop her vehicle. The insurance company representing Andre Ray filed an application in Kings County Supreme Court requesting that the action against Mr. Ray be dismissed in that their client never struck Officer Reynolds and her injuries clearly were not the proximate cause of Mr. Ray’s failure to wear his seatbelt. The attorneys for the insurance company failed to address the GML §205-e argument posed by DCD that proximate cause was not necessary to prove in a police line-of-duty accident case. Justice Laura Jacobson, citing the Cerati law, ruled in Officer Reynolds’ favor and stated that proximate cause is not an element of GML §205-e and that Officer Reynolds only needs to show “a reasonable or practical” connection between the violation and the injury.
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