As reported on NJ.Com, a Jersey City firefighter who injured himself when he broke down the front door of a burning home and saved two people in 2010 was awarded accidental disability pension benefits by the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division, after the Board of Trustees for the Police and Firemen’s Retirement System originally denied the same.

At 2 a.m. on Jan. 12, 2010, James Moran was dispatched to the house, which was boarded up and appeared to be unoccupied. As he was preparing to prevent the fire from spreading, he heard screams coming from inside the building.  The truck company, which was equipped and prepared to forcefully enter the home, had not yet arrived on scene.  As a result, Moran used his shoulder, leg and back to push through the front door, allowing two people to be rescued from the burning building.  Moran said during hearings that the two would have died had he not entered the building.

More than a year after the incident, Moran applied to the Police and Firemen’s Retirement System seeking an accidental disability retirement pension for the injuries he sustained while rescuing the two men.  The pension board, however, ruled that Moran did not meet one of the criteria for such a pension, specifically that his injuries were not the result of a traumatic event that is “undesigned and unexpected.” The board instead awarded him an ordinary disability pension benefits.  An Administrative Law Judge sided with Moran and recommended accidental disability, but the board rejected the findings, stating, “simply kicking in a door or intentionally using one’s back to force entry does not constitute an ‘unexpected happening.'”  The board also found the actions to be within the normal scope of his job.

However, in this instance, the three-judge Appellate Panel agreed with the Administrative Law Judge’s findings and reversed the Board of Trustee’s denial of the accidental disability pension, ruling that it took too narrow a view of the law.  “The undesigned and unexpected event here was the combination of unusual circumstances that led to Moran’s injury: the failure of the truck unit to arrive, and the discovery of victims trapped inside a fully engulfed burning building, at a point when Moran did not have available to him the tools that would ordinarily be used to break down the door,” Judge Susan Reisner wrote on behalf of the panel.

The panel also criticized the board for its “backhanded” criticism of Moran in its reference to him deviating from training in failing to use the ax on the truck to open the door. Moran’s Captain testified that he did not have access to the ax at the time he needed it.

All too often we see the Board of Trustees for the various Public Employment Retirement Systems misapply the well settled case law that pertains to disability retirement benefits and deny applicants either the accidental or ordinary disability retirement pensions that they are entitled too.  When an applicant believes that he or she has been subjected to a wrongful and/or unwarranted decision from a pension board, they should immediately seek the advice of counsel to discuss the possibility of appealing the decision.  However as we have stated in the past, there are very few attorneys in the State of New Jersey that specialize in public employment pension appeals, and therefore, to increase an applicant’s chance of receiving these life time benefits, they must seek out the services of these experienced practitioners.


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Photo of Frank M. Crivelli Frank M. Crivelli

Frank M. Crivelli’s practice revolves around the representation of over eighty-five (85) labor unions in various capacities, the majority of which bargain for law enforcement entities. He is proud to be called on a daily basis to provide counsel to over 12,000 state…

Frank M. Crivelli’s practice revolves around the representation of over eighty-five (85) labor unions in various capacities, the majority of which bargain for law enforcement entities. He is proud to be called on a daily basis to provide counsel to over 12,000 state, county and local law enforcement officers, firefighters and EMS workers.

Mr. Crivelli specializes his individual practice in collective negotiations.  Over the past twenty (20) years, Mr. Crivelli has negotiated well over one hundred (100) collective bargaining agreements for various state, county, municipal and private organizations and has resolved over thirty-five (35) labor agreements that have reached impasse through compulsory interest arbitration.  Mr. Crivelli routinely litigates matters in front of the New Jersey State Public Employment Relations Commission, the New Jersey Office of Administrative Law, third party neutrals for mediation, grievance and interest arbitration, the Superior Court of New Jersey and the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey.

Mr. Crivelli founded and created the New Jersey Public Safety Officers Law Blog ( approximately fifteen (15) years ago where he and members of his firm routinely publish blog posts regarding legal issues related to the employment of New Jersey Public Safety Officers.  The blog now contains over six hundred (600) articles and is reviewed and relied upon by thousands of public employees.  Mr. Crivelli has also published books and manuals pertaining to New Jersey Public Employee Disability Pension Appeals and the New Jersey Worker’s Compensation System. Currently, he is drafting a publication on how to Prepare and Negotiate a Collective Bargaining Agreement.  He lectures annually at the New Jersey State PBA Collective Bargaining Seminar, the National Association of Police Organization’s Legal Seminar, the New Jersey Public Employment Relations Commission Seminar on Public Employment Labor Law, the United States Marine Corps’ Commander’s Media Training Symposium and to Union Executive Boards and General Membership bodies on various labor related topics.

Prior to entering private practice, Mr. Crivelli joined the United States Marine Corps where he served as a Judge Advocate with the Legal Services Support Section of the First Force Services Support Group in Camp Pendleton, California.  While serving in the Marine Corps, Mr. Crivelli defended and prosecuted hundreds of Special and General Court Martial cases and administrative separation matters.  In addition to his trial duties, Mr. Crivelli was also charged with the responsibility of training various Marine and Naval combat command elements on the interpretation and implementation of the rules of engagement for various military conflicts that were ongoing throughout the world at that time. After leaving active duty, Mr. Crivelli remained in the Marine Corps Reserves where he was promoted to the rank of Major before leaving the service.

For the past fifteen (15) years, Mr. Crivelli has been certified as a Civil Trial Attorney by the Supreme Court for the State of New Jersey, a certification which less than two percent (2%) of the attorneys in New Jersey have achieved.  He is a graduate of Washington College (B.A.), the City University of New York School of Law (J.D.), the United States Naval Justice School, and the Harvard Law School Program on Negotiation.