December 13, 2012
New York State’s highest court on Thursday awarded enhanced pension benefits to two retired New York City police officers who said they had been sickened by their work at the World Trade Center site after the Sept. 11 attack, overturning a pension board’s ruling that their cancers were not related to ground zero. The widow of another officer also won enhanced benefits.
The ruling is the first by the State Court of Appeals in Albany addressing the presumption that police officers who spent time at ground zero in the months after the attack and developed certain ailments, including cancers, had been sickened as a result of their exposure there. In a decision that is likely to be encouraging to other first responders, the court squarely gave the New York City Police Pension Fund the burden of proof to show the illness was not related to Sept. 11.
The three officers, Karen Bitchatchi, Eddie Maldonado and Frank Macri, had various kinds of cancer. Officer Bitchatchi and Officer Maldonado applied for accidental disability benefits, and the widow of Officer Macri, who died of cancer in 2007, applied for line-of-duty death benefits. The accidental disability benefits amount to a tax-free pension of three-quarters of the officer’s salary, considerably more than the ordinary disability benefit, which has a taxable pension of one half of the officer’s salary. A line-of-duty death pension is equal to the officer’s full salary.