On July 30, 2010, the Appellate Division decided James Henderson v. Board of Trustees, Public Employees’ Retirement System, Docket No.: A-6176-08T2. In the case, James Henderson appealed the Board of Trustees of the Public Employees’ Retirement System’s (“Board”) denial of his application for accidental disability benefits. Frank M. Crivelli, Esq. and Donald C. Barbati, Esq. of the Pellettieri, Rabstein & Altman law firm, and the authors of this blog, successfully argued to reverse the denial, thereby obtaining accidental disability benefits for Henderson.

The case addressed whether Henderson was entitled to accidental disability retirement benefits based upon two (2) separate work-related incidents. Notably, it was undisputed that the first incident causing Henderson injury constituted a “traumatic event.” After initially becoming injured, Henderson was unable to work for some period of time, returned to light duty for a while, and then, ultimately, returned to full duty. The injury was then aggravated and accelerated by a second incident in which Henderson attempted to perform an ordinary task within the scope of his duties and responsibilities of employment.

The Board initially denied Henderson’s application for accidental disability retirement benefits. To support the denial, the Board determined that the second accident did not constitute a “traumatic event” within the meaning of the applicable case law. The Board also found that the injury originally suffered by Henderson in the first incident constituted a “pre-existing disease or condition,” thereby precluding him from receiving said benefits. This appeal ensued.

On appeal, Henderson argued that: (1) the second incident constituted a “traumatic event” within the meaning of the applicable case law; and (2) the term “pre-existing disease or condition” was never intended to include injuries suffered in prior traumatic events for purposes of whether an individual qualifies for accidental benefits.

In its decision, the Appellate Division agreed with the Board’s initial determination that the second incident did not constitute a traumatic event within the meaning of the applicable law. Significantly, however, the Court agreed with our contention that the term “pre-existing disease or condition” does not include injuries suffered in prior traumatic events. Rather, the Court found that term has been uniformly applied to bodily diseases or conditions that were not caused by a traumatic event. The Court cited a litany of case law to support this contention and articulated that the Board’s suggestion that the injuries resulting from the original traumatic event and their sequelae should be treated as pre-existing diseases or conditions is utterly inconsistent with the applicable law.


The Court found that Henderson’s case was simply a delayed manifestation case. Simply put, the Court determined that Henderson suffered a traumatic injury in 2003 that was the proximate cause of the delayed manifestation of his total permanent disability and, therefore, entitled to receive accidental disability retirement benefits. As such, the Board’s original determination was reversed and the case was remanded with instructions to award Henderson the benefits.

The Henderson ruling is significant in the realm of public pension law. Notably, New Jersey courts have finally clarified that injuries suffered by claimants in previous traumatic events do not constitute a “pre-existing disease or condition.” In many cases, the various pension boards characterized injuries suffered by claimants in previous traumatic events as “pre-existing conditions,” thereby precluding these persons from receive accidental disability benefits if they returned to work after the original injuries. In other words, many people were hurt on the job and returned to their employment, only to have their injuries aggravated which, in turn, ultimately disabled them. Prior to this ruling, they would not receive accidental disability retirement benefits. Now, under the current law, claimants can receive these benefits even after returning to work.

Email this postTweet this postLike this postShare this post on LinkedIn
Photo of Donald C. Barbati Donald C. Barbati

Donald C. Barbati is a shareholder of Crivelli, Barbati & DeRose, L.L.C. His primary practice revolves around the representation of numerous public employee labor unions in various capacities to include contract negotiation, unfair labor practice litigation, contract grievance arbitration, and other diverse issues…

Donald C. Barbati is a shareholder of Crivelli, Barbati & DeRose, L.L.C. His primary practice revolves around the representation of numerous public employee labor unions in various capacities to include contract negotiation, unfair labor practice litigation, contract grievance arbitration, and other diverse issues litigated before the courts and administrative tribunals throughout the State of New Jersey. In addition, Mr. Barbati also routinely represents individuals in various types of public pension appeals, real estate transactions, and general litigation matters. He is a frequent contributor to the New Jersey Public Safety Officers Law Blog, a free legal publication designed to keep New Jersey public safety officers up-to-date and informed about legal issues pertinent to their profession. During his years of practice, Mr. Barbati has established a reputation for achieving favorable results for his clients in a cost-efficient manner.

Mr. Barbati has also handled numerous novel legal issues while representing New Jersey Public Safety Officers. Most notably, he served as lead counsel for the Appellants in the published case In re Rodriguez, 423 N.J. Super. 440 (App. Div. 2011). In that case, Mr. Barbati successfully argued on behalf of the Appellants, thereby overturning the Attorney General’s denial of counsel to two prison guards in a civil rights suit arising from an inmate assault. In the process, the Court clarified the standard to be utilized by the Attorney General in assessing whether a public employee is entitled to legal representation and mandated that reliance must be placed on up-to-date information.

Prior to becoming a practicing attorney, Mr. Barbati served as a judicial law clerk to the Honorable Linda R. Feinberg, Assignment Judge of the Superior Court of New Jersey, Mercer Vicinage. During his clerkship Mr. Barbati handled numerous complex and novel substantive and procedural issues arising from complaints in lieu of prerogative writs, orders to show cause, and motion practice. These include appeals from decisions by planning and zoning boards and local government bodies, bidding challenges under the Local Public Contract Law, Open Public Records Act requests, the taking of private property under the eminent domain statute, and election law disputes. In addition, Mr. Barbati, as a certified mediator, mediated many small claims disputes in the Special Civil Part.

Mr. Barbati received a Bachelor of Arts degree in history, magna cum laude, from Rider University in Lawrenceville, New Jersey. Upon graduating, Mr. Barbati attended Widener University School of Law in Wilmington, Delaware. In 2007, he received his juris doctorate, magna cum laude, graduating in the top five percent of his class. During law school, Mr. Barbati interned for the Honorable Joseph E. Irenas, Senior United States District Court Judge for the District of New Jersey in Camden, New Jersey, assisting on various constitutional, employment, and Third Circuit Court of Appeals litigation, including numerous civil rights, social security, and immigration cases.