[142 NJSuper Page 263] Appellant Silvio Magnani presents this appeal from the decision of the Board of Trustees of the Public Employees' Retirement System (board) which, following
an administrative hearing before a hearing officer, denied claimant's application for retirement on an accidental disability allowance under N.J.S.A. 43:15A-43.
This statute delineates the terms on which such retirement may be granted by the board. The relevant portions thereof are as follows:
A member*fn1 * * * shall * * * be retired by the board of trustees, if said employee is permanently and totally disabled as a direct result of a traumatic event occurring during and as a result of the performance of his regular or assigned duties on an accidental disability allowance.
Permanent and total disability resulting from a * * * musculoskeletal condition which was not a direct result of a traumatic event occurring in the performance of duty shall be deemed an ordinary disability.
At the administrative hearing the parties entered into certain stipulations, including (a) Magnani was permanently and totally disabled for the performance of his regular job duties and (b) he was retired on ordinary disability by the board on August 1, 1973.*fn2
Magnani commenced employment with the Department of Transportation of New Jersey in 1951. In 1961 and until his retirement his employment classification was truck driver. His regular duties included driving a truck assigned to him for the purpose of transporting work crews and materials, performing ordinary mechanical maintenance chores with respect to the truck, and supplementing the work force at jobsites.
In 1957 he underwent a surgical procedure whereby a ruptured intervertebral disc was excised. According to his testimony at the administrative hearing, his back was asymptomatic until April 29, 1970 when the "traumatic event" allegedly occurred.*fn3 He had been operating the same truck since 1961. Over the years the tailgate, which weighed almost 200 pounds, had become warped. This made it more difficult to replace on each of the eight to fifteen times each year that it was normally removed for work requirements. On April 29, 1970 there was a shortage of manpower so that Magnani and a coworker, Swalagin, attempted to replace the tailgate alone instead of with a crew of three or more to perform that task. Magnani and Swalagin raised the gate to the required height. Then Magnani got into the truck to "align the pins." He pulled the gate in to line the holes up. The gate started to fall and as he was trying to hold it back to keep it from falling on Swalagin he felt a sudden sharp pain in the spine. He was unable to resume his employment for four or five weeks. His injury was diagnosed by his treating physician as a sprain.
The next incident occurred on March 13, 1972, when claimant again experienced pain in the same area of his back while lifting a six-gallon bucket of tar from the truck. He did not resume his employment duties for an interval of four
to five weeks and he was treated by a physician. The diagnosis was a ...