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Puntasecca v. Violent Crimes Compensation Board

Decided: December 12, 1986.

EUGENE PUNTASECCA, APPELLANT,
v.
VIOLENT CRIMES COMPENSATION BOARD, RESPONDENT



On appeal from a final determination of the Violent Crimes Compensation Board.

Michels, Skillman and Landau. The opinion of the court was delivered by Landau, J.s.c. (temporarily assigned).

Landau

Claimant Eugene Puntasecca (Puntasecca), a Teaneck firefighter, appeals from a final determination of the Violent Crimes Compensation Board (Board) which denied his claim for compensation for certain lost earnings resulting from injuries he sustained while engaged in extinguishing an arson-caused fire.

The sole basis for rejection of his claim disclosed by the record was the Board's determination that the "fireman's rule" recognized in Berko v. Freda, 93 N.J. 81 (1983) precluded such

award because Puntasecca's injuries were received in the performance of his duties as a professional firefighter.

Puntasecca received worker's compensation benefits, and sought no compensation under the Criminal Injuries Compensation Act of 1971 (N.J.S.A. 52:4B-1 et seq.) for loss of his firefighter earnings. He had however, been employed as a part-time truck driver to augment his firefighter income, and it was for the loss of those supplemental earnings that he sought compensation.

Thus, the limited question before us is whether the "fireman's rule" constitutes a legal bar to compensation by the Board for income loss wholly unrelated to Puntasecca's fire fighting duties. We here hold that it does not, and therefore reverse and remand.

ELIGIBILITY OF VICTIMS OF ARSON UNDER N.J.S.A. 52:4B-1, ET SEQ.

The Criminal Injuries Compensation Act of 1971 provides an administrative framework for victims of crimes designated as violent under N.J.S.A. 52:4B-11 to receive limited reimbursement for financial losses occasioned by such crimes.

The act vests broad discretion in the Violent Crimes Compensation Board established thereunder (N.J.S.A. 52:4B-3) to determine whether payment of compensation is warranted, based upon ". . . any circumstances it determines to be relevant . . ." (N.J.S.A. 52:4B-10(c)) including payment for "loss of earning power." (N.J.S.A. 52:4B-12(b)) These powers are subject to availability of adequate funding. N.J.S.A. 52:4B-9. See White v. Violent Crimes Compensation Board, 76 N.J. 368, 386 (n. 5) (1978). N.J.S.A. 52:4B-11(b) does not specifically mention arson in its enumeration of violent crimes but it includes a category 10 which refers broadly to "any other crime involving violence."

As with any administrative determination, a determination by the Violent Crimes Compensation Board which has correctly applied the applicable ...


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