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Laffey v. City of Jersey City

April 10, 1996

PATRICK LAFFEY, PETITIONER-RESPONDENT,
v.
CITY OF JERSEY CITY, RESPONDENT-APPELLANT.



On appeal from the Division of Workers' Compensation.

Approved for Publication April 10, 1996.

Before Judges Havey, D'Annunzio and Braithwaite. The opinion of the court was delivered by Braithwaite, J.A.D.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Braithwaite

The opinion of the court was delivered by

BRAITHWAITE, J.A.D.

Respondent, City of Jersey City, appeals from a workers' compensation judgment awarding petitioner, Patrick Laffey, thirty-seven and one-half percent permanent partial disability for pulmonary disease. We reverse.

Petitioner, fifty-four years of age at the time of his compensation hearing, was employed by respondent as a police officer from 1973 until August 1994, when he retired. He was assigned to the police station located at 576 Communipaw Avenue for his entire tenure as a Jersey City police officer. Petitioner described the station building as a three story structure containing administrative offices, the captain's office, a cell block or holding cell, the Detective Bureau, a bathroom, storage lockers, and a locker room with a changing area. The building also had a basement that contained the furnace and fuel tank, telephone lines, and plumbing.

Petitioner characterized the building as "a really old building, very dusty." He attributed the dusty condition to the casement windows that "don't really shut." The windows face Communipaw Avenue, which he identified as "the main truck and bus thorofair [sic]." He also claimed the building had "the original furnace in the building from when they built it so there is [sic] tremendous fumes . . . [that] would come up to the main floor." He further asserted that the wood floors in the locker room were not cleaned on a regular basis and would "hold all the residue and dirt." Petitioner testified that he would spend "on an average day . . . about a half hour before and then maybe a half hour, twenty minutes to a half hour after [shift] changes" in the locker room. When asked how much time he spent in building "working the desk," petitioner responded:

Well, you did everything out of your building. You got your assignments out of this building. If you had a report, you go out and get a report, you would have to come back and type on the first floor. If you had an arrest, you had to expedite the arrest on the first floor because all the [] paperwork had to be signed by the supervisor. So really a great deal of time could be spent there at different times of the day.

When petitioner first joined the police force he was assigned to foot patrol. That assignment mostly entailed supervising school crossings and traffic control. He was assigned to the Hudson Mall and Route 440 area. Describing the working conditions, petitioner testified as follows:

Q. What would the conditions be like while you were working that job?

A. During the day heavy traffic, mostly trucks down there.

Q. What would the air be like where you were working?

A. Well, the air down there wasn't very good because the PJP Land Fill was active all this time.

Q. Describe how that would affect where you were working?

A. Well, PJP would emanate ashes, smoke, sometimes really heavy, sometimes lighter. It all depends. Mostly in the summertime it was very heavy.

Q. What else would be in that area when you were working near PJP?

A. Mostly truck traffic, fumes, dust from dust [sic] and dirt from the road. In the middle there is like an island. When it would rain it would just go into the road.

In 1976, petitioner was reassigned to motorcycle duty. He described his duties as "keeping Communipaw Avenue clear in the morning so that the trucks and buses could come across town, responding to some fires, doing some school crossings, traffic control[, and] if there was [sic] spills, we would take care of those." Describing the working conditions, petitioner said, "a lot of times they would have the road open for construction so it [sic] would be a lot of dirt and pipe work, dust from that, fumes from the buses, fumes from the trucks, fumes from the cars."

Petitioner testified to the frequency of responding to fires and the conditions at the scenes as follows:

Q. Can you estimate during that period of time how many [fires] you responded to?

A. Winter time it was heavy, maybe two a week.

Q. What would the conditions be like at the fires?

A. Well, we would get there right away. It would be really heavy smoke, ash, your body could be covered. Your uniform would be covered with all this ash.

Q. Did you have any duties to stay at the fire while it was being extinguished by the fire department?

A. You would be there for traffic control, crowd control and you would probably be there assigned somewhere near the house after the fire until they can get the house shield up and the building shield up so no one would go in and steal stuff out of it.

Q. What would the conditions be like while the fire was being extinguished?

A. A lot of ash, debris being tossed off the roof, out of the windows and things like that. Stuff that is burning, furniture and things like that.

Q. Did you have a mask while you were doing that?

A. No, we never signed [sic] a mask.

Q. What would the conditions be like after the fire was extinguished while you were securing the area?

A. It would be lighter smoke.

Q. There would still be smoke there?

A. Yes. There would still be ...


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