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9 N.J.A.R. 333

Della Vecchia, Albert v. Police and Firemen's Retirement System of New Jersey, Board of Trustees
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Citation: 9 N.J.A.R. 333
Decision Date: 1985
Agency: POLICE & FIREMEN'S RETIREMENT SYSTEM
Synopsis: After being denied accidental disability retirement benefits by respondent, petitioner requested a hearing. The administrative law judge assigned to the case found that it was petitioner's contention that he was totally and permanently dis- abled by reason of a psychiatric or psychological disorder which he claimed was the result of continuous stressful episodes occurring in connection with his work. Petitioner further contended that these episodes constituted one or more traumatic events. Respondent had rejected the application concluding that, although petitioner was total- ly and permanently disabled, he had failed to establish a traumatic event. The judge found that petitioner was permanently and totally disabled by reason of mental incapacity for the performance of avail- able duty, and that this disability was a direct result of the cumulative effects of exposure to physical and emotional stress in his position as a municipal police officer. The judge found, however, that the history of proven working conditions, while inherently stressful and which required petitioner to engage in vigorous and violent physical activity, were not, in combination or by accumulation, a traumatic event as required by N.J.S.A. 43:16A-7(1). The judge noted that the statute first requires proof of an event which, by itself and without relation to its ultimate effect, may prop- erly be characterized as both accidental and involving force or viol- ence. Second, the consequences of that event must inhere predominantly in the event itself and not in any peculiarity or previous condition of the public employee. Thus, particularly in the context of psychiatric disability, there must be found inhering in the alleged traumatic event qualities of immediate and objective severity sufficient to render a significant or substantial number of persons (if not the average person) disabled. Here, the judge found that in isolation none of the established events could seriously be claimed to be sufficient to induce a disabling psychological reaction in a normal person. Nor would a series of such events constitute a traumatic event within the meaning of the statute. Gradual deterioration may prove disabling but such disability is to be compensated as ordinary and not accidental disability. The essen- tial cause of an accidental disability can be nothing less than an event that is identifiable as to time and place, that directly causes injury or disability and that involves a mishap or accident involving some kind of external force to the body or the violent exposure of the body to some external force. Accordingly, the judge concluded that petitioner had failed to establish entitlement to accidental disability retirement benefits. Upon review, this initial decision was adopted by the Board of Trustees, Police and Firemen's Retirement System. James B. Segreto, Esq., for petitioner (Segreto & Segreto, attorneys) John Franzini, Deputy Attorney General, for respondent (Irwin I. Kimmelman, Attorney General of New Jersey, attorney) Initial Decision
Citation Tracker adopted-Bd. of Trustees; affirmed -App. Div., A-3132-84, 1/15/86 (unreported) [Updated through 1991]