Appeals court says doctor’s injuries from mass shooting belong to workers’ compensation board

The top court was not convinced by the plaintiff's argument that the case was ineligible for workers' compensation due to the absence of a "link" between the victim's injuries and the person who caused them.  Pictured above is the Bronx-Lebanon Hospital where the shooting took place.  (Credit: Wikimedia) Top court unpersuaded by plaintiff’s argument that case was ineligible for workers’ compensation due to lack of ‘nexus’ between victim’s injuries and the person who caused them. Pictured above is the Bronx-Lebanon Hospital where the shooting took place. (Credit: Wikimedia)

A multijurisdictional case involving a doctor’s injuries following a 2017 mass shooting at Bronx-Lebanon Hospital was resolved Thursday by New York’s highest court, with all seven jurists agreeing to send the case back to the court. National Commission for Workers’ Compensation.

The New York Court of Appeals’ decision seriously jeopardizes the injured doctor’s federal civil suit against the hospital.

The supreme court was Unpersuaded by the plaintiff’s argument, the case was ineligible for workers’ compensation due to the lack of a “nexus” between the victim’s injuries and the person who caused them.

Writing for the court, Justice Caitlin Halligan said that although the record showed “undisputed” evidence that the victim and shooter were strangers before the massacre, a lack of evidence of motivation for workplace aggression does not refute the rebuttable presumption set forth in Workers’ Compensation Law § 21(1).

The presumption provides that when an injury occurs in the course of a worker’s employment, it is presumed to arise from his or her employment and is therefore compensable by the Commission, in the absence of substantial evidence to the contrary.

The injured doctor’s appeals lawyer, Brooklyn-based Arnold Kriss, responded by calling for legislative reforms.

Kriss said lawmakers should remove the rebuttable presumption from the law. This would submit all such claims to the New York State Workers’ Compensation Commission.

Kriss said he filed the lawsuit in federal court in good faith. He said he saw no connection between his client’s injuries and the person who caused them.

Meanwhile, the highest court overturned the unanimous decision of a mid-level appeals court in Albany in February 2022, which had allowed the victim’s federal lawsuit against the hospital and the commission to continue. state workers’ compensation.

State law states that an employer providing workers’ compensation benefits for workplace accidents cannot be sued for the same injuries.

But Kriss said he would explore options for moving forward with the federal lawsuit.

“We can ask the Federal Court to consider its (2019) decision and move forward,” Kriss said. “Or the Bronx-Lebanon attorneys could file a motion to dismiss the case, on the grounds that it is a state matter.”

The hospital filed a workers’ compensation claim on the doctor’s behalf three days after the shooting, and the doctor never authorized the claim, but instead sued the hospital and the store that sold the shooter his rifle in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in March 2018.

The federal case, which seeks damages for negligence, negligent causing of emotional distress, negligent hiring, retention, training and supervision, The development was favorable for the injured doctor.

This court denied the hospital’s motion to dismiss, finding that the doctor’s injuries were not compensable under workers’ compensation because there was no evidence to suggest that the shooting stemmed from related disputes at work.

The Federal Court stayed the complaint until the Court of Appeal resolves the workers’ compensation claim.

Kriss said he respected the Court of Appeals’ decision, but disagreed with it, “not only in light of the Third Department’s well-reasoned decision, but also, in decision by a federal judge finding that injuries suffered by (his client, Dr. Justin Timperio) by a random shooter were unrelated and did not arise from Dr. Timperio’s position as a medical resident.

Kriss added that he found the decision “surprising” in light of the fact that the highest court recognized the Third Department as “the primary appellate court reviewing workers’ compensation appeals in a previous decision.

Legislative fix

New York’s workers’ compensation law was enacted in 1914 to protect employees from workplace injuries, while also protecting employers from civil lawsuits, if the workplace is deemed safe.

Kriss said that in light of the appeals court ruling, lawmakers should make it strict liability — that if someone gets hurt on the job, it should be a workers’ compensation issue, while eliminating presumption.

But Kriss acknowledged that it would cause insurance company lobbyists to come to Albany “screaming and screaming that insurance premiums are killing employers.”

“Their cries and screams would be so loud that the Court of Appeal would hear them,” he said.

Timperio was shot and killed by a former hospital employee, Dr. Henry Bello, on June 30, 2017.

Bello had worked for the hospital from August 2014 until he resigned in February 2015, following allegations that he sexually harassed a hospital employee.

Bello had entered wearing a doctor’s coat and a hospital ID badge while carrying a loaded AR-15 rifle.

He set fire to the nursing station on the 16th floor of the hospital, using a juice container filled with gasoline. Bello shot Timperio, shot and killed another doctor, and shot and wounded four other medical staff and a patient. He then shot himself and committed suicide.

Kriss said his client, now 36, will never work in the medical profession again because of his injuries.

Caryn L. Lilling, founding partner of Mauro Lilling Naparty, who represented Bronx-Lebanon Hospital, did not respond to the Law Journal’s message.

Sarah L. Rosenbluth argued the case April 16 on behalf of the New York State Workers’ Compensation Commission.