NJ state worker crashed in snowy commute — wanted special pension
A state Department of Education worker who injured herself driving to work on a snowy day because she didn't know her meeting had been canceled has been denied a full disability pension.
Ursula Cargill appealed a decision by the Board of Trustees of the Public Employees' Retirement System after she applied for the benefits from the injury she sustained in February 2010. She had been working for 11 years.
While she was awarded an ordinary disability pension — which pays her more than $44,000 a year — she was seeking the more generous accidental disability pension, which can pay two thirds of a worker's last salary.
In the days leading up to the injury, Cargill had been scheduled to attend a monthly managers' meeting with the chance of snow in the forecast. An email was sent the day before the meeting that it had been canceled, but Cargill said she had not received the notice.
Cargill testified that on her drive to the meeting, she hit a patch of ice and slid off the road and into a snowbank. She said she attempted to push down her rear bumper to get out of the bank and felt a "twinge in her lower back."
After the injury, Cargill worked for another year, according to an appellate court decision released this week.
In March 2011 she applied for her retirement pension. The pension board ruled that she was permanently disabled and granted her an ordinary disability, but not accidental disability. The board declared that the woman's injury was "not undesigned and unexpected."
Cargill appealed to an administrative law judge. The judge said Cargill did not qualify for accidental disability because the injury did not occur while she was at work, but rather on her way to work. The judge also ruled that the injury could have been expected.
"It can hardly be argued that a 46-year-old woman sustaining a strained back while attempting to dislodge a car from a snow bank is an extraordinary or unusual consequence," the judge said.
The appellate panel agreed.
According to New Jersey pension records, Cargill worked for the Department of Education for 11 years and was making a salary of $101,549.