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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