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Injured worker not entitled to accidental disability benefits

Posted On: Jun. 25, 2019 2:25 PM CST

injured worker

A city worker injured was not entitled to accidental disability retirement benefits, the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division held Monday.

In Luisi v. Board of Trustees, the appellate court affirmed in a 2-0 decision that a worker injured when he tried to single-handedly lift a truck tailgate did not constitute an accidental injury.

Michael Luisi worked as a laborer for the City of Brigatine. On April 20, 2010, he was transporting concrete mix to a stone recycling center when the locking mechanism — or claws — on the truck’s tailgate became stuck. His supervisor used a backhoe to bend the rods attached the claws, and Mr. Luisi, believing the truck to be fixed, left to deliver another load. However, the claws on one side broke off, causing the left side of the truck’s tailgate to fall off. The tailgate weighed an estimated 500 to 600 pounds, and when Mr. Luisi tried to lift the tailgate, he said he felt a “pop” in his shoulder and two “pops” in his back, suffering from a cerebrovascular accident and traumatic back and shoulder injuries. He had suffered from a number of workplace injuries before this incident, including back and shoulder pain both before and after the 2010 incident and underwent a total shoulder replacement in 2012.

He applied for ordinary and accidental disability retirement benefits. The Board of Public Employees' Retirement System denied these requests on the basis that he had not completed the minimum number of years of service to receive ordinary disability benefits, and that his incident was not “undersigned and unexpected” but the result of a pre-existing disease, and precluded him from receiving accidental disability benefits.

Mr. Luisi appealed to an administrative law judge who held that he was totally and permanently disabled and that his injury was not caused by a pre-existing condition, and that his incident was “undersigned and unexpected” because Mr. Luisi was not trained on how to operate the truck and was under the assumption that his supervisor had fixed the tailgate. The board overturned the administrative judge’s finding and Mr. Luisi appealed.

The appellate court, however, held that Mr. Luisi’s incident was not unexpected or “caused by a circumstance external,” and that injured caused by an individual’s pure physical exertion did not fit within the definition of an unexpected external circumstance. The court noted that Mr. Luisi knew the tailgate was broken and how heavy it was before he was injured, and did not need to be specifically trained to know the tailgate was too heavy to lift.

The court, therefore, affirmed the board’s denial of his request for accidental disability retirement benefits.

The attorney for Mr. Luisi, Stuart Alterman, said that he believed the administrate law judge who tried the case wrote a “thoughtful decision” in favor of Mr. Luisi.

“(The board), unfortunately … reversed the administrative law judge with an improper and defective decision, and it’s very unfortunate,” he said.