|March 12, 2008
NJ Supreme Court Rules on Standard for Accidental Disability Retirement When No Physical Impact Has Occurred
The New Jersey Supreme Court, in a decision handed down yesterday, ruled that accidental disability retirement may be triggered under the Police and Firemen’s Retirement System (PFRS) and the State Police Retirement System (SPRS) when the traumatic event does not involve physical impact, but only if certain conditions are met. In deciding three cases before it, Patterson v. SPRS (A-99-05), Moore v. SPRS (A-101-05), and Guadagno v. PFRS (A-123-05), the Court found that accidental disability retirement is warranted where the individual suffers from a permanent and total mental disability as a direct result of a mental stressor that 1) is identifiable as to time and place, unexpected, and externally caused (not due to pre-existing disease); 2) occurred during and because of the individual’s regular duties; 3) was not caused by the individual’s own willful negligence and 4) involved direct personal experience of a terrifying or horror-inducing event that involved actual or threatened death or serious injury to the individual or another person.
Using these standards, the Court found that in the Patterson case, which involved verbal abuse by the individual’s superior officer, the plaintiff did not qualify for accidental disability, since no threat of death or serious injury was involved. In the Moore case, the plaintiff’s prolonged exposure to a racially-hostile environment did not qualify him for accidental disability for the same reason, although it might have been actionable under other laws. Death threats made against Mr. Moore nine or ten years before the claim was filed were subject to the five year statute of limitations, but this incident was remanded to the Board for testimony by plaintiff’s physicians about delayed manifestation. However, the Court found that the plaintiff in the Guadagno case, a corrections officer, did qualify for accidental disability retirement due to the credible threats of rape and murder made against his wife and daughter by an inmate who was a presumed gang member and knew where the plaintiff and his family lived.
To access this case, please go to: http://www.judiciary.state.nj.us/opinions/index.htm
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Very truly yours,
William G. Dressel, Jr.