Mount v Trustees Board of Pensions
Submitted by New Jersey Workers Compensation Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.
On January 10, 2007 Officer Mount was on duty when a severe accident occurred. Mount was
the first responder on scene and saw the accident prior to the fire engulfing the vehicle and
three teenagers in the car. Mount did not have the equipment to save the lives of the teenagers.
Bystanders were standing around yelling at him to help but he could not. Immediately after
calling for backup the car exploded right in front of Mount. He walked over to the car after the
fire was put out and saw three wax bodies that were burnt. He smelled burnt flesh and was
shocked from what was just witnessed. Mount started to experience psychological problems
after the event occurred. Mount did not treat for his psychological problems until when he
underwent rehab for his alcohol abuse. In 2010, Mount was diagnosed with post-traumatic
stress disorder. Once diagnosed, Mount left the police force. On August 31, 2010 Mount applied
for accidental disability benefits while stating the event that happened on January 10, 2007 was
the cause for his disability. The board rejected his application for accidental disability benefits
but granted ordinary disability benefits. The board reconsidered its’ conclusion but reaffirmed
their consideration that this event was not “objectively capable of causing a reasonable person
in a similar circumstance to suffer a disabling mental injury.”
After this decision Mount appealed to the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). During the hearing
the ALJ stated he was only hearing two issues:
1) whether the January 10, 2007 accident was undersigned and unexpected under Richardson
2) whether that accident was terrifying or horror-inducing in accordance with Patterson. The ALJ rejected the Board’s determination in the aspect of incident Mount experience not being “terrifying or horror-inducing event.”
However, the ALJ did not find this event solely responsible for his psychological problems. The ALJ also
found that arriving on the scene was not unusual for the job nor unexpected. The Board
conceded that the disability was the direct result in Mount’s psychological problem. However,
the ALJ ruled against him on the causation issue.
Mount appealed the Board’s final decision to the Appellate Division. The Appellate panel did not
address the ALJ’s finding adopted by the board because of the finding that Mount’s disability
was not a direct result of the “terrifying or horror inducing event. The panel concurs with the ALJ
and Board’s decision since the horrific event was within Mount’s job description. His job
description was contemplated by his training and the event was neither unusual or unexpected
under Richardson. The Panel ended up affirming the Board’s decision for an ordinary disability
pension as opposed to the accidental disability pension.
Mount appealed to the New Jersey Supreme Court. The Court found that it was reasonable for
Mount to experience such an event like this because of his job description. However, Mount
was not trained to single handedly fight a fire with no equipment or deal with such an explosion
alone. Mount was helpless in this situation he was not trained for. The Court found that Mount
confronted an event that was unusual and unexpected. The Court stated that the Board’s
determination that Mount did not experience a traumatic event, “lacked fair support in the
record, and that the Appellate Division panel should have reversed that determination.” Even
after this determination Mount still has to prove his total disability from the one specific event.
The Supreme Court remanded the case back to the Appellate Court to determine if Mount is
totally disabled from the event that occurred January 10, 2007.