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Estate of Terminelli v. Police & Firemen's Retirement System

May 14, 1996

ESTATE OF ANTHONY TERMINELLI, PETITIONER-APPELLANT,
v.
POLICE & FIREMEN'S RETIREMENT SYSTEM, DIVISION OF PENSIONS, RESPONDENT-RESPONDENT.



On appeal from Board of Trustees Police and Firemen's Retirement System.

Approved for Publication May 14, 1996.

Before Judges Landau, Kleiner and Humphreys. The opinion of the court was delivered by Landau, J.A.D. Humphreys, J.A.D. (dissenting)

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Landau

The opinion of the court was delivered by LANDAU, J.A.D.

Anthony Terminelli was the Police Chief of the Borough of Washington, supervising its small twelve-member force. He died on February 18, 1992, after collapsing at police headquarters. The death certificate listed cardiac arrest due to coronary artery disease as the cause of death.

Chief Terminelli was a member of the Police and Fireman's Retirement System (PFRS). His estate applied for accidental death benefits, contending that death was the direct result of a traumatic event that occurred on February 3, 1992, during the actual performance of police duties. The application was denied by the Board of Trustees of PFRS (Board), which did not accept this contention.

Following administrative appeal, an Administrative Law Judge issued an initial decision supporting the PFRS denial of accidental death benefits. It was adopted by the Board, and the Estate appealed. We affirm.

It is not disputed that Chief Terminelli suffered a heart attack in 1986 for which he was hospitalized and underwent cardiac catheterization. Various cardiac medications were prescribed thereafter. He returned to work on a part-time basis three months after discharge from the hospital, gradually increasing his hours. By February 3, 1992, Chief Terminelli was working a forty-hour week, free of pain or discomfort, walking three miles a day and apparently in good health, according to his wife.

On February 3, 1992, while on patrol car duty, he apprehended a burglary suspect after a vigorous foot chase that culminated when he tackled and subdued the suspect. Another senior officer testified that when he responded to a request for back-up, Chief Terminelli was clutching his chest and gasping for breath. The Chief thought he might have been kicked in the chest or fallen against a tree during the tackle. According to the same witness and Mrs. Terminelli, the Chief's capacity, vigor, and Disposition appeared to have deteriorated from that time until his fatal attack on February 18.

The Administrative Law Judge considered the expert opinion testimony of the Estate's witness, Dr. Bernard Eisenstein, who concluded that Chief Terminelli's fatal acute myocardial infarction:

was a result of the physical exertion on February 3rd, producing an acute coronary insufficiency state, known as unstable angina, with bridging symptoms and continued coronary insufficiency, until an acute myocardial infarction resulted on -- the 18th of February.

So, therefore, the acute myocardial infarction was due to the traumatic event of February 3rd.

[(Emphasis added).]

While Dr. Eisenstein opined that Chief Terminelli's death was the direct result of pursuing, tackling, and subduing the suspect, he also unequivocally confirmed that death was due to coronary ...


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