Newark Police Officer Loses Disability Claim For Injury Suffered While On Active Military Duty In Iraq

From December 20, 1993 to February 28, 2005, Arnell Mason was employed by the City of Newark, New Jersey as a police officer, and was a member of the Police and Fireman’s Retirement System (PFRS). Prior to his employment by the City, Mason served in the United States Army.

On June 11, 2001, Mason re-enlisted in the United States Army Reserve. In November 2001, the City issued an Executive Order that set forth its policy concerning employees called to active military duty. The order declared that these employees would be granted leave and paid the difference between their military salary and municipal salary. The City would also continue to make all pension contributions.

On February 6, 2003, Mason was called to active military duty again and deployed to Iraq. Mason was placed on approved military leave, the City paid the difference between his military and municipal salary, and made all required contributions to PFRS.

On October 5, 2003, while on a military police patrol in Baghdad, Mason’s vehicle was ambushed and struck by a roadside bomb. As a result of the attack, Mason suffers from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

On March 24, 2004, Mason filed an application with the City for accidental disability retirement. When the pension board only approved an “ordinary” disability retirement – providing a significantly lesser benefit – Mason appealed.
A state appeals court upheld the denial of “accidental” benefits. To be eligible for “accidental” benefits under New Jersey law, the individual must be “permanently and totally disabled as a direct result of a traumatic event occurring during and as a result of the performance of his regular or assigned duties.” Mason argued that since the City supplemented his salary and continued its retirement contributions when he was in Iraq, his PSTD resulted from his work.

The Court rejected Mason’s argument, finding that the intent of the disability statute that an “accident occurs only if the employee is injured on premises owned or controlled by the employer, during or as a result of the actual performance of his or her duties. Mason cannot satisfy this test because he was injured while on active duty with the United States Army and as a result of his duties as a soldier. In short, his injury occurred neither on premises owned or controlled by the City nor as a result of his regular and assigned job responsibilities as a police officer for the City.”

The Court continued that “the actions by the City to encourage enlistment cannot be considered authorized outside employment that may, under certain circumstances, allow an injured employee to qualify for accidental disability benefits. The essential ingredient for eligibility based on authorized outside employment is that the police officer must be working for his employer at the time the officer undertakes the additional assignments. Here, Mason was on leave from his position with the City and was subject to the direction and control only of the United States Army.”

Mason v. Department of the Treasury, 2006 WL 1764385 (N.J.Super.A.D. 2006).

This article appears in the September 2006 issue