Needle Stick Not Accidental Injury

Frank Caminiti was a Sheriff’s officer in New Jersey. Caminiti, along with two police officers, was engaged in a confrontation with an individual who was wielding a tire iron. They persuaded the man to drop the tire iron, and Caminiti forced him to the ground.

Caminiti and another officer then walked the suspect to a nearby automobile. Preliminary to his search, the standard inquiry was made of the suspect, whether he possessed any objects that could cause injury. The inquiry elicited a negative response. During the search, the suspect unexpectedly moved backwards and Caminiti’s finger was deeply stuck by a hypodermic needle in the suspect’s shirt pocket.

Caminiti subsequently received treatment for HIV, AIDS, and hepatitis C. The side effects of the prescribed medications and the required personal regimen resulted in Caminiti suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, which he claimed rendered him totally and permanently disabled as a result of the incident. The Board of Trustees of the local retirement system accepted Caminiti’s basic claim for ordinary retirement benefits, but disallowed his claim for the higher benefit available for “accidental” disabilities. Caminiti appealed the denial for accidental benefits through the court system.

A New Jersey appeals court rejected Caminiti’s claim. Under New Jersey law, a law enforcement officer or firefighter requesting accidental disability benefits must show that “his injuries were not induced by the stress or strain of the normal effort,” and that “the source of the injury itself was a great rush of force or uncontrollable power.” The Court concluded that “personal searches in circumstances such as those occurring here, and the risk of injury, even from a needle-stick, were routine in Caminiti’s calling, and the injury incurred was not the catastrophic stressor envisioned by the law.”

Caminiti v. Board of Trustees, Police and Firemen’s Retirement System, 2007 WL 2004943 (N.J. Super. A.D. 2007).

This article appears in the September 2007 issue