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New Jersey public employees who are unable to work due to work accidents may apply for generous accidental disability pensions, providing approximately two thirds to 70% of pay with no federal taxes owed. The standards for an accidental disability pension are rather similar to those in a workers’ compensation case, as is shown by the recent case of Bowser v. Board of Trustees, Police and Firemen’s Retirement System, A-0568-16T4 (App. Div. June 13, 2018).
The case involved correctional officer, Kristy Bowser, who suffered a fall on ice outside the Mercer County Correctional Center. On the day of the injury Bowser parked her car on the employer’s property in an area reserved for corrections officers. She worked one shift already and was then asked to work a second shift. She asked a co-worker to cover for her while she retrieved feminine hygiene products from her car. She slipped on black ice near the jail where she worked while walking to her car. The Board of Trustees agreed that Bowser was totally and permanently disabled from working her job, that the disability was not caused by her own willful negligence, and that she was physically incapacitated from performing her usual duties or any other duty. However, the Board disagreed that this arose from the direct performance of her duties and therefore the Board denied her claim.
The Appellate Division reversed in her favor. It cited a prior case which said “Common sense dictates that the performance of an employee’s actual duties incorporates all activities engaged in by the employee in connection with his or her work, on the employer’s premises, from the formal beginning to the formal end of the workday.”
The Court added, “Just as restroom breaks at the work location during the workday ‘are necessary concomitants of an employee’s performance of his or her regularly assigned tasks,’ Kasper, 164 N.J. at 586 n.7, so was Bowser’s break to retrieve those necessary products. She remained on the MCCC premises, and had no intention of leaving. She obtained relief from a fellow officer so she could briefly leave her post, as she would if she had headed straight to the restroom. And, she was ‘on the clock,’ as she would be during a restroom break. Consequently, her accident occurred ‘during and as a result of the performance of her regular or assigned duties.’”
For these reasons, the Appellate Division reversed the Board and awarded the officer her accidental disability pension. Practitioners should note that accidental disability pensions are for work injuries only and are available to public employees. Non-work medical conditions cannot be considered in an accidental disability application, unlike less generous ordinary disability pensions. The standards for compensability in an accidental disability pension application for a public employee are similar to those in workers’ compensation. Generally in workers’ compensation, on premises injuries are compensable unless the activity of the employee constitutes a deviation from employment or the injury is idiopathic. Walking to one’s car during a break to retrieve something on the employer’s premises would be covered under New Jersey workers’ compensation law just as it was in this disability pension case.
John H. Geaney, Esq., is an Executive Committee Member and a Shareholder in Capehart Scatchard's Workers’ Compensation Group. Mr. Geaney concentrates his practice in the representation of employers, self-insured companies, third-party administrators, and insurance carriers in workers’ compensation, the Americans with Disabilities Act and Family and Medical Leave Act. Should you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Mr. Geaney at 856.914.2063 or by e‑mail at email@example.com.