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Still v. Board of Trustees of Public Employees'' Retirement System

Decided: September 28, 1976.

GEORGE STILL, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF THE PUBLIC EMPLOYEES' RETIREMENT SYSTEM, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT



Matthews, Seidman and Horn. The opinion of the court was delivered by Horn, J.A.D.

Horn

George Still, claimant, appeals from the decision of the Board of Trustees of the Public Employees' Retirement System (board) denying his application for accidental disability retirement under the terms of N.J.S.A. 43:15A-43, the relevant portions of which are as follows:

A member * * * 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 a duty shall be deemed an ordinary disability.

The only issue before us, which was resolved by the board adversely to the claimant, is whether claimant's admitted permanent and total disability was "a direct result of a traumatic event occurring during and as a result of the performance of his regular or assigned duties," within the meaning of said statute. All other facts qualifying claimant to receive such pension have been found to be present, including his permanent and total disability. We differ from the board in the determination of the issue and accordingly reverse.

Claimant commenced his employment as a laborer with the Department of Transportation of New Jersey in 1956,

and at the time of the alleged traumatic event on the morning of December 17, 1971 he was classified as a Maintenance Man I. In this classification most of his duties consisted of landscaping work, but it also included general outdoor laboring tasks.

In 1965 claimant fell into a hole and sustained an inguinal hernia and possibly some back pain. Following a relatively short absence from his duties, during which time he underwent a herniorrhaphy, he returned to his normal work activities without any apparent interruption. Other than the 1965 incident, he was asymptomatic as to back pain until the incident of December 17, 1971. On that day he was temporarily assigned to work in the department garage. He climbed up on the wheel of a large mechanical sweeping machine in order to retrieve his cap, which had been tossed on the top of the sweeper. While doing so he lost his balance and fell, striking the lumbar portion of his back on a mechanic's steel workbench approximately four feet high. He was stunned but he continued to work for a short time with pain in the lower back area. He then "staggered" to the nurse's office and advised her of the incident. She sent him to the dispensary. At the dispensary he was directed to go home. He left before 12 noon and remained at home the remainder of the week.

From the time of this incident he had pain in the lumbar portion of his back, for which he received fairly constant medical treatment. A physician prescribed a back brace or support shortly thereafter, and he has worn it continuously to ease the pain.

He resumed the duties of his employment with intermittent absences, but found it progressively more difficult to perform them. He could not perform the more strenuous duties. In the spring of 1972, while lifting an 80-pound bag of fertilizer, he felt extraordinary pain in the same area of his lower back, accompanied by chest pain. He consulted his physician that evening. At the latter's direction he was a patient at a hospital for about ten days, during

which time he was treated for hypertension and "osteoarthritis of spine." In April 1973 while operating a 200 to 300-pound mechanical lawnmower, he again felt increased pain in his back. He obtained medical attention. In both of ...


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