In two separate, but related cases, police officers sought relief under General Municipal Law § 205-e. In the first case, Maria Gonzalez was injured as a result of a traffic accident in which her partner ran a red light in a marked police vehicle. She sued both her partner and the City of New York under § 205-e alleging that her partner violated Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1104(e). The jury awarded her damages, and subsequently the Appellate Division modified on unrelated grounds and affirmed. The City of New York appealed on two grounds. First, the City asserted that fellow officer lawsuits are not authorized under § 205-e. Second, the City argued that Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1104(e) cannot be grounds for a § 205-e claim.
The Court denied the City's appeal on both grounds. Fellow officers are valid targets of a General Municipal Law § 205-e claim. The many and varied amendments to § 205-e do not specifically exclude claims based on fellow officer actions. The Court concluded that the Legislative intent was to apply the law expansively to include actions of fellow officers. Furthermore, the Court determined that Vehicle and Traffic Laws are part of a well-developed body of law, and that Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1104(e) imposes a clear legal duty. As such, a § 205-e claim may be predicated on a violation of § 1104(e).
In the second case, Sean Cosgriff was injured when, in the course of his duties as a New York City police officer, he tripped and fell on a defective sidewalk. The City had previously issued a notice requiring repair of the defective sidewalk. Cosgriff sued the owner of the property, its management company, and the City. His private claims were settled, but the suit against the City went forward based on common-law negligence theories and General Municipal Law § 205-e. The lower courts found in favor of Cosgriff. The City appealed, arguing that the New York City Charter and Administrative Code statutes on which Cosgriff based his claim are not appropriate for a § 205-e claim. The Court denied this appeal as well, holding that New York City Charter § 2903(b)(2) and Administrative Code of the City of New York § 7-201(c) dictate clear legal duties, are part of well-developed bodies of law, and as such, may be the basis of a § 205-e claim.
1) Whether General Municipal Law § 205-e can be used in claims based on the actions of fellow officers.
2) Whether Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1104(e), New York City Charter § 2903(b)(2), and Administrative Code of the City of New York § 7-201(c) can form the basis of a claim asserted under General Municipal Law § 205-e.
1) Yes. Actions of fellow officers have not been specifically excluded despite numerous amendments to the law. The Legislature intended an expansive application of General Municipal Law § 205-e to include fellow officers' lawsuits.
2) Yes. Each statute at issue requires a clear legal duty, and is a part of a well-developed body of law. Therefore, each statute may be the basis of a claim under General Municipal Law § 205-e.
Cases Cited by the Court
Other Sources Cited by the Court