On appeal from the Superior Court, Appellate Division.
For reversal and reinstatement -- Chief Justice Wilentz, and Justices Clifford, Pollock, Garibaldi and Stein. For affirmance -- Justices Handler and O'Hern. The opinion of the Court was delivered by Pollock, Justice. Stein, J., concurring. O'Hern, J., dissenting. Justice Handler joins in this dissent. Stein, J., concurring in result.
In this case, we must determine whether a "slip-and-fall" injury to a public school teacher that results in permanent disability constitutes a "traumatic event" for the purposes of the Teachers' Pension and Annuity Fund-Social Security Integration Law, N.J.S.A. 18A:66-1 to -93 (TPAF). The TPAF Board (the Board) denied the application of claimant, Dianne Maynard, for accidental disability because her injury was not the direct result of a "traumatic event." In an unreported decision, the Appellate Division reversed, finding that the slip and fall was such an event. One judge dissented, and the Board appealed of right, R. 2:2-1(a)(2). We now reverse the judgment of the Appellate Division, and reinstate the decision of the Board.
On September 8, 1982, Maynard, a high school English teacher, reported to work and "signed in" at the main office, as required by the school board's policy. After signing in, she turned to proceed to her mailbox to pick up her homeroom student attendance cards. She slipped and fell on the highly polished floor, striking the back of the right side of her head on a bench and landing on her back on the floor. Maynard described the accident in her testimony:
As I turned to go to the mail box, my feet went out from underneath me and I fell.
As I fell, when I went down, I twisted one ankle. I don't know which one it was now, but there was a long bench, like a church pew that they use for people to sit to wait for conferences and the bench was behind me.
As I fell and went down, the back of the right side of my head hit the bench * * *.
The school nurse helped Maynard into a wheelchair and took her to the nurse's office, where she remained until her nephew took her home. As a result of the accident, Maynard, from whom a benign brain tumor had been removed in the preceding year, suffered aphasia, which is defined as the "[a]bsence or impairment of the ability to communicate through speech, writing, or signs, due to dysfunction of brain centers," Taber's Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary 116 (15th ed. 1985), and petit mal seizures. Although she returned to active employment in October 1982, she missed an additional eleven days of work during the 1982-83 school year, and twenty-eight days during the 1983-84 school year.
Finding that Maynard was totally and permanently disabled, the Board denied her application for accidental disability retirement benefits but granted her ordinary disability benefits. See N.J.S.A. 18A:66-39(b). On Maynard's administrative appeal, an administrative law judge (ALJ) recommended affirmance of the Board's denial of accidental disability benefits. The ALJ found that Maynard's slip and fall was a traumatic event, but that it did not occur during and as a result of her regular duties. N.J.S.A. 18A:66-39(c). Consequently, the ALJ recommended denial of accidental disability benefits. The Board adopted the ALJ's decision, but modified it by concluding that the slip and fall was not a traumatic event.
The Appellate Division reversed the Board, concluding both that Maynard's slip and fall constituted a traumatic event and that it occurred during and as a result of her usual duties. Judge Muir dissented from that part of the opinion that held that a slip and fall on a freshly waxed floor is a traumatic event.
The present case is controlled by our unanimous decision three years ago in Kane v. Board of Trustees, Police & Firemen's Retirement System, 100 N.J. 651 (1985), in which
we held that a policeman's slip and fall was not a "traumatic event" under N.J.S.A. 43:16A-7. Although Kane involved a claim for accidental benefits under the Police & Firemen's Retirement System (PFRS), N.J.S.A. 43:16A-1 to -68, and the present case arises under the TPAF, N.J.S.A. 18A:66-1 to -93, coverage under each statute depends on the interpretation of the phrase "traumatic event." Hence, the critical question is the meaning of that phrase in determining whether a disability is accidental or ordinary.
Our ultimate goal is ascertaining the intention of the Legislature in requiring that injuries be sustained in a "traumatic event" for an injured employee to be entitled to the higher benefits attributable to an accidental disability. To paraphrase Justice Holmes, on this point a page of legislative history is worth a volume of logic. New York Trust Co. v. Eisner, 256 U.S. 345, 349, 41 S. Ct. 506, 507, 65 L. Ed. 963, 983 (1921) ("Upon this point a page of history is worth a volume of logic."). The legislative history pertaining to accidental benefits makes clear that the inclusion of the word "traumatic event" was "intended to make the granting of an accidental disability pension more difficult." Cattani v. Board of Trustees, Police & ...