(CN) – A New York wildlife investigator cannot collect disability benefits for an injury he suffered while securing a load of illegally sold venomous snakes, a state appeals court ruled.
Daniel Sullivan worked for 31 years as an investigator for the Department of Environmental Conservation. At the time of his injury, he was working on an undercover sting operation involving the illegal capture and sale of protected wildlife.
During a herpetology show, Sullivan and his partner arranged to buy 30 protected amphibians and seven copperhead snakes. After securing the Tupperware container of snakes in his pickup truck, Sullivan was eager to distance himself and get back to the sting operation, for which he was wearing an undercover wire. In lowering himself from the truck, however, he slammed both knees.
A hearing officer granted Sullivan’s accidental disability retirement benefits, but New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli overturned the decision.
The appellate division’s Albany-based Third Judicial Department sided with the state, ruling that the injury was part of the job, not a compensable accident.
“As part of his duties as an investigator, petitioner participated in surveillance activities related to undercover illegal wildlife tracking operations for a period of three years. His involvement in transactions resulting in the sale and exchange of illegal wildlife, some of which might be venomous, was thus foreseeable,” Justice Elizabeth Garry wrote for the court.
“Although one might not expect venomous snakes to be transported in a nonsecure manner, there is nothing in the record to indicate that the lid of the container was ajar or that there was another obvious hazard present that constituted a sudden, unexpected and out of the ordinary event precipitating petitioner’s injury,” she added.