Matter of the Ridge Road Fire District v Michael P. Schiano, as Hearing Officer

In this Article 78 case, Kevin Nowak applied for benefits after experiencing back pain while operating a vehicle in response to a fire alarm in November 2002. Following this incident, Nowak applied for disability benefits and was denied. He then had a hearing which resulted in the Hearing Officer determining that the respondents presented substantial evidence that the disability was related to the performance of Nowak’s duties. An Article 78 proceeding was then commenced in Supreme Court. The Court in turn annulled the order due to the Hearing Officer applying an incorrect standard of review in his analysis of the case based on whether the respondents presented substantial evidence to override petitioner’s determination instead of focusing on whether petitioner’s determination was supported by substantial evidence. The matter was then resubmitted to the Hearing Officer. This time the Hearing Officer concluded that the denial of benefits to Nowak was not supported by substantial evidence.

The Ridge Road Fire District then commenced an Article 78 proceeding and the Court granted the petition concluding that there was substantial evidence to support the denial of benefits to Nowak and that the Hearing Officer’s determination was arbitrary and capricious.

The Court feels that the original decision of the Court was in error because Nowak was able to prove that his job duties were a direct cause of the disability. Nowak’s battalion chief testified that he observed Nowak to be in pain after returning from the fire alarm in November 2002. The determination that the disability was solely related to a prior non-work-related injury was not supported by substantial evidence and therefore the determination that the Hearing Officer’s decision to that effect was arbitrary and capricious was in error. Since Nowak’s operation of the work vehicle was a direct cause of his disability he should be awarded benefits.

Accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed the judgment appealed, dismissed the petition and reinstated the determination of respondent Hearing Officer granting Nowak benefits.

Read more about this Article 78 appeal for benefits for an on duty injury.

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