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Eckert v. New Jersey State Highway Department

Decided: February 28, 1949.

VIOLA M. ECKERT, PETITIONER-RESPONDENT,
v.
NEW JERSEY STATE HIGHWAY DEPARTMENT, RESPONDENT-APPELLANT. MARION MEURY, PETITIONER-RESPONDENT, V. NEW JERSEY STATE HIGHWAY DEPARTMENT, RESPONDENT-APPELLANT



On appeals from the former Supreme Court.

For affirmance: Chief Justice Vanderbilt and Justices Heher, Oliphant, Wachenfeld, Burling and Ackerson. For reversal: Justice Case. The opinion of the court was delivered by Oliphant, J.

Oliphant

The meritorious question presented in these appeals, which were consolidated for the purpose of argument, is whether or not both pensions and workmen's compensation benefits can be paid to the dependents of public employees accidently killed in the actual performance of their duties. Identical questions of law are presented in both cases.

Walter C. Eckert and Herman J. Meury were employees of the New Jersey State Highway Department. It is conceded they both suffered instant death as the result of accidents arising out of and in the course of their employment, of which the State had due notice.

Following the death of the employees the respective widows, on behalf of themselves and other dependents, filed applications for State pensions under the State Employees Retirement System, R.S. 43:14-37, and the pensions were granted.

Thereafter, while receiving the State pensions, the petitioners-respondents filed Dependent's Claim Petitions for compensation with the Workmen's Compensation Bureau of the New Jersey Department of Labor and the claims were allowed. Appeals were then taken from the judgments of the Bureau to the Common Pleas Courts of Atlantic and Sussex Counties, which in each instance, resulted in an affirmance. Writs of certiorari were then allowed and the former Supreme Court affirmed the judgments of the Courts of Common Pleas.

Two points are raised by appellant in these appeals, (1) that there is no legislative authority which expressly permits the payment of both pensions and workmen's compensation benefits to dependents of a public employee; and (2) dependents of a public state employee accidently killed in the actual performance of his duties who elect to receive a pension under Title 43 of the Revised Statutes, paid for wholly by the State, are thereafter precluded from obtaining workmen's compensation benefits, paid for wholly by the State, under Title 34 of the Revised Statutes.

It is first argued that the receipt of both a pension and compensation benefits results in double compensation for one accident paid for from the same source and that this is unsound, contrary to public policy and without legislative authority. Reliance is placed upon the cases of DeLorenzo v. Board of Commissioners of the City of Newark, 134 N.J.L. 7 (E. & A. 1946) and Reinhold v. Town of Irvington, 134 N.J.L. 416 (Sup. Ct. 1946). In the former case the public employee was receiving workmen's compensation benefits when he attempted to also recover a pension, in the latter the employee was receiving a pension when he attempted to additionally recover workmen's compensation benefits. It was held in the DeLorenzo case "The relationship of an employer and an employee is not consistent with the position of a pensioner as such, for the reason that a pensioner severs all relationship of employer and employee,

he has no further duty to his employer nor is he entitled to any of the benefits which may accrue to an employee. An employee receiving workmen's compensation is under the relationship of employee and employer, as is indicated by the fact that such employee must continue to be carried on the public payroll pursuant to R.S. 34:15-44. The plaintiff must be one or the other and as he admittedly now receives workmen's compensation he is an employee. We, therefore, hold that the plaintiff cannot have the benefits of both statutes." In the Reinhold case compensation was denied prosecutor, by virtue of the statute R.S. 34:15-43 which provides "nor shall any former employee who has been retired on pension by reason of injury or disability be entitled under this section to compensation for such injury or disability."

It is to be observed that the Court in those cases was dealing with the claims of employees, living individuals, and they are not controlling here where the problem relates to dependents of deceased employees. A pension given a public employee under the Pension Act is "a reward for past services and a safeguard against want in old age," what he receives under the Compensation Act is compensation for the disability resulting from injury. DeLorenzo v. Newark, supra. The status of a dependent is incompatible with that definition. The relationship between employer and employee never existed between the dependents of these deceased public employees and their employers and there therefore could be no severance of such relationship in the case of the allowance of a pension to the dependents and likewise no continuance of that relationship in the case of compensation benefits. The word "dependent" cannot be found in R.S. 34:15-43, supra. These dependents stand or fall on their own separate rights as such.

Appellant correctly states there is no legislative authority expressly permitting payment of both pension and compensation benefits but on the other hand there is no legislative prohibition against such payments and there appears to be legislative sanction therefor, if not explicitly, at least inferentially. The original Workmen's Compensation ...


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