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Czarnecki v. Board of Trustees

SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY APPELLATE DIVISION


June 27, 2007

ROBERT CZARNECKI, APPELLANT,
v.
BOARD OF TRUSTEES, POLICE AND FIREMEN'S RETIREMENT SYSTEM, RESPONDENT.

On appeal from a Final Decision of the Board of Trustees, Police and Firemen's Retirement System, Docket No. PFRS# 3-10-29581.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted June 12, 2007

Before Judges Kestin and Lefelt.

Captain Robert Czarnecki is a Trenton fire fighter. While boarding a fire truck to respond to a fire alarm a twenty-inch long compressed air cylinder, weighing between twenty-two and twenty-four pounds, dislodged and fell approximately two feet striking his lower back where he had, some years before, undergone a diskectomy. Unfortunately, the accident caused Czarnecki to become permanently and totally disabled and Trenton eventually ordered that he be compulsorily retired on ordinary disability. Czarnecki appeals from a final decision of the Board of Trustees, Police and Firemen's Retirement System (PFRS), which adopted Administrative Law Judge Solomon Metzger's initial decision, denying Czarnecki's application for accidental disability retirement benefits.

To be entitled to accidental disability retirement benefits, Czarnecki must prove that he was "permanently and totally disabled as a direct result of a traumatic event occurring during . . . the performance of . . . assigned duties." N.J.S.A. 43:16A-7. Judge Metzger correctly articulated the Supreme Court's three part test used to determine whether the cause of the injury can be considered a "traumatic event" under the pertinent statute. Under that test, the injury may not be caused by "the stress or strain of the normal work effort," must be involuntary, and must originate from "a great rush of force or uncontrollable power." Kane v. Bd. of Trs., Police and Firemen's Ret. Sys., 100 N.J. 651, 663 (1985). Judge Metzger found that Czarnecki's injury was caused by "a rush of force, but not the 'great' rush discussed in the cases."

We may speculate on whether the result would be the same had the air cylinder fallen twenty feet instead of two, and weighed fifty pounds instead of the twenty-two to four, and bemoan the uncertain line drawing that the Kane traumatic-event test requires. However, such line drawing is required by the test and, until the test is modified by the Supreme Court or the Legislature, a reasonable result reached by the agency should be affirmed by this court. See Gerba v. Bd. of Trs., Pub. Employees' Ret. Sys., 83 N.J. 174, 189 (1980). In this instance, we cannot say that the line drawn by Judge Metzger is so off-base as to warrant reversal.

Furthermore, Czarnecki failed to establish that his injuries were not induced by the "stress or strain of the normal work effort." Any fire alarm requires an almost instantaneous response. Kane, supra, 100 N.J. at 663. Rushing to a fire scene and accidentally being struck with equipment stored in the fire truck is not something so extraordinary and "so unbargained-for in [its] occurrence in workplace life that the necessity of substantial additional compensation must be recognized." Angiola v. Bd. of Trs., Pub. Employees Ret. Sys., 359 N.J. Super. 552, 556 (App. Div. 2003). Consequently, we are constrained to affirm.

Affirmed.

20070627

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