New Jersey is favorable to public sector employees seeking Accidental Disability pensions. These pensions are granted where a work-related traumatic accident results in the total and permanent inability to perform the worker’s current job. In Richardson v. Board of Trustees, the Court eliminated the requirement that the traumatic event come from a “great rush of force or uncontrollable power.” Before this decision the Court had carved out bizarre criteria to meet the “great rush of force” standard. For example, a member who fell down 15 steps could meet the “great rush of force” criteria — while falling down 5 steps may not — even when the fall resulted in the same disability.
To qualify for an Accidental Disability pension after the Richardson case, the worker must experience a traumatic workplace accident that meets the following 5 criteria: (1) identifiable as to time and place (2) undesigned and unexpected (3) disability not the result of a pre-existing condition (4) must occur during the member’s regular and assigned duties and not as the result of willful negligence, and (5) results in mental or physical incapacity from performing the usual job duties.
Stark & Stark’s recent NJ Supreme Court victory in Patterson v. Board of Trustees, the court found that public workers who are mentally traumatized at work by a “terrifying or horror-inducing event,” without any physical impact, are now eligible for Accidental Disability pensions, even if the disability is purely mental. In the Patterson case a corrections officer was traumatized when an inmate whom he had disciplined threatened to kill him, and rape and murder his wife and daughter. The threat was thought to be credible because the inmate had gang connections outside of the prison, and the officer believed that the prisoner knew where he lived.
The significance of these two recent decisions cannot be understated. A member who is awarded an Accidental Disability pension receives two-thirds of their salary, while a member who is awarded an Ordinary Disability pension receives approximately 40% of salary. These cases make it easier to obtain the Accidental Disability pension if all of the criteria are met.