As reported by the New Jersey Law Journal, the New Jersey Supreme Court recently clarified the meaning of the term “undesigned and unexpected” event as it pertains to qualifying for accidental disability retirement benefits for a mental disability in the case of Mount v. Board of Trustees, Police and Firemen’s Retirement System. In the

As reported by the New Jersey Law Journal, the Appellate Division recently issued an opinion in the matter Westphal v. Board of Trustees, Police and Firemen’s Retirement System, which addressed certain issues associated with the filing of involuntary disability retirement applications. In the case, the Petitioner, William Westphal, appealed from the Board of

The Appellate Division once again the considered the “undesigned and unexpected” standard as it pertains to qualifying for accidental disability retirement benefits in the case of Mason v. Bd. of Trustees, Police and Firemen’s Retirement System. In the case, the appellant alleged she was injured while qualifying with a firearm for her work as

As reported by nj.com, a divided state employee benefits commission today backed a Republican proposal to rein in rising accidental disability claims but said lawmakers should remove a provision that unfairly punishes workers who are permanently injured on the job.

The GOP bill would reduce accidental disability pensions across all retirement systems to

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.


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On January 27, 2010, the Appellate Division decided Gregory Russo v. Board of Trustees, Police and Firemen’s Retirement System, Docket No.: A-3706-08T2. In the case, Gregory Russo appealed from the March 10, 2009 final determination of the Board of Trustees of the Police and Firemen’s Retirement System (“Board”) denying his application for accidental

On January 21, 2010, the Appellate Division decided In the Matter of Rosemarie Tatusko, Docket No.: A-2888-08T3. The case involved an appeal from a final decision of the Board of Trustees of the Police and Firemen’s Retirement System which denied Rosemarie Tatusko’s (“Appellant”) application for an accidental disability pension.

Appellant was employed by the Department of Corrections as a senior correctional officer at the Burlington County Jail. Her application for an accidental disability pension was based on an incident that occurred on Ocotber 22, 2005, when she assisted in saving a female inmate who had attempted to commit suicide. Appellant heard a “hacking gagging noise,” and when she scanned the prison cells to determine the source of this noise, she found the inmate hanging from a sheet in her cell. Appellant called another correctional officer to help her and the two of them were able to cut down the sheet with scissors and get the inmate to the floor. Appellant though at the moment that the inmate had died, but later found out that she had survived the attempted suicide.

At the time of the incident, Appellant had been a corrections officer for eight years. During that time, she had witnessed three other attempted suicides, two of which involved inmates cutting their wrists and the third of which also involved a hanging. Appellant did not experience any psychological problems after any of those three prior incidents. However, Appellant suffered a total and permanent psychological disability as a result of the October 22, 2005 incident. When Appellant was asked at the hearing on her application before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) how the October 22, 2005 incident differed from those prior incidents, she responded: “I don’t know. I can’t explain.”

The ALJ concluded that Appellant’s observations of the inmate’s attempted suicide and efforts to save her constituted a traumatic psychological event and, therefore, granted Appellant’s application. The Board rejected this recommended conclusion and determined that Appellant’s application should be denied because Appellant’s observation of the inmate’s attempted suicide and her subsequent efforts to save the inmate were not objectively capable of causing a reasonable corrections officer with training and experience similar to appellant to suffer a disabling mental injury. This appeal ensued.


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Following up on our previous entry, this article will help our readers understand the criteria that must be met in order for a public employee to qualify for an ordinary or accidental disability pension within one of the following State pension systems, the Public Employees Retirement System, the Teachers Pension and Annuity Fund, the State Police Retirement System, and the Judicial Retirement System. While these pension plans are similar in defined benefits and criteria for eligibility, each has their own specific nuances that are particular to the membership they serve. 

Accidental v. Ordinary Disability Benefits

Public Employees Retirement System and Teachers Pension and Annuity Fund

In accordance with the Public Employees Retirement System (“PERS”) and Teachers Pension and Annuity Fund (“TPAF”) handbooks, in order to qualify for an ordinary disability retirement, an employee must:

·         Have an active pension account;

·         Have 10 or more years of New Jersey service credit;

·         Be considered totally and permanently disabled; and

·         Submit medical reports certifying the disability.

In order to qualify for an accidental disability retirement, a member must:

·         Be an active member of PERS or TPAF on the date of the “traumatic event”;

·         Be considered totally and permanently disabled as a result of a “traumatic event” that happened during and as a direct result of carrying out the member’s regular or assigned job duties;

·         File an application for disability retirement within five (5) years of the date of the “traumatic event”; and

·         Be examined by physicians selected by the retirement system.

If an employee claiming membership to either one of these retirement funds qualified for accidental disability, his/her annual retirement allowance will be 72.7% of their salary at the time of the “traumatic event.”

Should the public employee be receiving periodic workers’ compensation benefits, the accidental disability retirement benefits will be reduced dollar for dollar by the periodic benefits paid after the retirement date. However, the retirement benefit is not reduced by any Social Security or private insurance benefits that may be payable.

The New Jersey Division of Pensions and Benefits reports accidental disability retirement benefits as exempt from federal income tax. The benefits are also


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