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NEW YORK — Tommy Lau is always watching what happens on the streets. 

He has been with NYC Transit for 23 years. He operates the express bus into Manhattan from the area around Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. 

He was wearing his uniform and on a break from a day or training on March 23 when he went for a walk along 86th Street. Near 25th Avenue, he saw an elderly Asian couple being harassed and robbed. 

He went over to see if he could help. 

“The next thing you know he spat at me and punched me in the face. He called me a racial slur. I ran after him and I fell,” he said. 

Police were able to apprehend the suspect. Lau was injured in the fight and has not yet returned to work. He applied for workers‘ compensation but it was denied because the attack happened while he was on a break. 

MTA Communications Director Tim Minton says it is required to follow state law when making decisions on workers compensation.

“Those who believe the law falls short in covering this case can and should lobby the NY legislature to change it,” he wrote. 

Robert Grey is a workers’ compensation attorney. He says claims are valid if the incident happens in the course of employment.  

“There are a long line of cases that expand what course of employment is. Often, lunch and short breaks qualify. There is nothing in the law that says they have to contest it. They could have chosen to mount a defense of the case or they could have accepted it,” he said. 

The story was first reported this month in an article by Jose Martinez in The City. The claim will be heard by a compensation judge who will issue a decision.

A spokesperson for the NYS Workers’ Compensation Board responded to a PIX11 News email asking about policy. 

“Each case is taken on its unique facts, and there is no general rule that applies to all situations,” wrote Melissa Stewart. 

Tommy Lau hopes to be able to get back to work.