Mount v. Board of Trustees, Police and Firemen's Retirement System

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Justia Opinion Summary

At issue before the New Jersey Supreme Court was two determinations of the Police and Firemen’s Retirement System (PFRS) Board of Trustees (Board), each involving a police officer’s claim that he was “mentally . . . incapacitated” by a traumatic event within the meaning of N.J.S.A. 43:16A-7(1). In Mount v. Board of Trustees, PFRS, the Board and the Appellate Division panel rejected Officer Christopher Mount’s claim that he was permanently disabled because he witnessed at close range the incineration of three young victims in an explosion after a high-speed motor vehicle collision. The Supreme Court held Mount had proven that he experienced a terrifying or horror-inducing event that met the standard of Patterson v. Board of Trustees, SPRS, 194 N.J. 29 (2008), and that the event was undesigned and unexpected within the meaning of Richardson v. Board of Trustees, PFRS, 192 N.J. 189 (2007). The Court therefore reversed the Appellate Division panel’s judgment and remanded to the panel to decide Mount’s claim that his mental disability was a direct result of that incident. In Martinez v. Board of Trustees, PFRS, the Supreme Court considered the Division’s decision reversing the Board’s denial of accidental disability benefits to Detective Gerardo Martinez, a municipal police department’s hostage negotiator. Martinez claimed that his permanent disability resulted from psychological injuries sustained when a lengthy hostage negotiation ended with the shooting death of the hostage-taker, as he and Martinez spoke by cellphone. The Supreme Court held Martinez did not demonstrate the incident that caused his disability was undesigned and unexpected under the Richardson test, and therefore he was not entitled to accidental disability benefits pursuant to N.J.S.A. 43:16A-7.

SYLLABUS

(This syllabus is not part of the opinion of the Court. It has been prepared by the Office of the Clerk for the
convenience of the reader. It has been neither reviewed nor approved by the Supreme Court. Please note that, in the
interest of brevity, portions of any opinion may not have been summarized.)

    Christopher Mount v. Board of Trustees, Police and Firemen’s Retirement System (A-9-16) (078021)
    Gerardo Martinez v. Board of Trustees, Police and Firemen’s Retirement System (A-83-16) (078823)

Argued November 28, 2017 -- Decided June 5, 2018

PATTERSON, J., writing for the Court.

         In these appeals, the Court reviews two determinations of the Police and Firemen’s Retirement System
(PFRS) Board of Trustees (Board), each involving a police officer’s claim that he was “mentally . . . incapacitated”
by a traumatic event within the meaning of 
N.J.S.A. 43:16A-7(1).

          Mount v. Board of Trustees, PFRS: Officer Christopher Mount served as a Freehold Township police
officer from 1996 until his retirement on May 1, 2010. On January 10, 2007, Mount responded to a serious motor
vehicle accident. A group of bystanders were screaming at him, “[d]o something—do something.” A vehicle
“exploded into flames right in front of [him].” Mount lacked any firefighting equipment and called for the fire
department. When “the smoke and the dust settled,” Mount was able to see that the three teenage victims’ “skin was
melted, the clothing was melted on to the skin.” In 2010, Mount was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder
(PTSD). Following that diagnosis, he left his employment as a police officer and applied for accidental disability
benefits. The Board denied that application. The Appellate Division affirmed the Board’s decision, finding that the
“concededly horrific event” was within Mount’s job description and contemplated by his training. The Court
granted certification. 
228 N.J. 56 (2016).

           Martinez v. Board of Trustees, PFRS: Detective Gerardo (“Gerry”) Martinez joined the Hammonton
Police Department in 1990. In 2001, Martinez underwent forty hours of training on hostage negotiation. He was
designated as a hostage negotiator for the Hammonton Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team and took
additional training courses on hostage negotiation at least twice a year. Negotiators are trained to understand that
the tactical component of a SWAT team may elect to enter a building without warning to confront a hostage-taker,
and that such a confrontation may end with the use of force. On April 25, 2010, a suspect in an armed robbery,
Donald Hoffman, fled to his mother’s home and took his mother, his sister, and his mother’s tenant hostage.
Initially, Hoffman insisted that he and his hostages were “all going to die.” After spending an hour speaking by
cellphone with Martinez, Hoffman released the three hostages. For the next ten hours, Hoffman remained in his
mother’s home, refusing to surrender. Without alerting Martinez in advance, the tactical team entered the home.
Through the cellphone connection, Martinez heard Hoffman yell “Gerry, Gerry . . . . Help me. Help me, Gerry.
They’re going to kill me,” followed by “two pops” and then silence. Martinez saw officers remove Hoffman’s body
and place it on the lawn. Martinez returned to work but was diagnosed with PTSD and major depressive disorder.
The Board found Martinez ineligible for accidental disability benefits. An Appellate Division panel reversed. The
Court granted certification. 
230 N.J. 496 (2017).

HELD: Mount has proven, under requirements established in case law construing 
N.J.S.A. 43:16A-7(1), that he
experienced a terrifying or horror-inducing event and that the event was undesigned and unexpected. The Court
remands to the Appellate Division panel to decide Mount’s claim that his mental disability was a direct result of that
incident. Martinez has not demonstrated that the incident that caused his disability was undesigned and unexpected and
therefore is not entitled to accidental disability benefits pursuant to 
N.J.S.A. 43:16A-7.

1. To be eligible for benefits under the accidental disability provision, a PFRS member must satisfy 
N.J.S.A. 43:16A-
7(1)’s requirement that “the medical board, after a medical examination of such member, shall certify that the member
is 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 and that such disability was not the result of the member’s willful
negligence and that such member is mentally or physically incapacitated for the performance of his usual duty and of
any other available duty in the department which his employer is willing to assign to him.” In Richardson v. Board of
                                                         1
Trustees, PFRS, 
192 N.J. 189, 212-13 (2007), the Court prescribed a five-pronged standard mandating that a PFRS
member seeking such benefits prove “(1) that he is permanently and totally disabled; (2) as a direct result of a traumatic
event that is (a) identifiable as to time and place, (b) undesigned and unexpected, and (c) caused by a circumstance
external to the member . . . ; (3) that the traumatic event occurred during and as a result of the member’s regular or
assigned duties; (4) that the disability was not the result of the member’s willful negligence; and (5) that the member is
mentally or physically incapacitated from performing his usual or any other duty.” (pp. 21-27)

2. In Patterson v. Board of Trustees, SPRS, the Court addressed what standard should govern when a member premises
his or her claim for accidental disability benefits on “a permanent mental disability as a result of a mental stressor,
without any physical impact.” 
194 N.J. 29, 33 (2008). The Court required that a member, seeking to predicate an
award of accidental disability benefits on a mental disability due entirely to mental stressors, prove that the disability
resulted from a “direct personal experience of a terrifying or horror-inducing event that involves actual or threatened
death or serious injury, or a similarly serious threat to the physical integrity of the member or another person.” Id. at
34. The Court applied that standard in Russo v. Board of Trustees, PFRS, which arose from the mental disability claim
of a police officer—neither trained nor equipped to confront a major fire—who was ordered into a burning house to
rescue the residents. 
206 N.J. 14, 19 (2011). The officer heard cries but was prevented by the intense flame and heat
from reaching a victim. Ibid. The officer’s distress over that victim’s death was compounded by the statements of
family members at the scene, who blamed him for failing to rescue the victim. Id. at 20. The officer was diagnosed
with PTSD, and was found by the expert for the Board to be permanently and totally disabled as a result of the fire. Id.
at 20-21. The Court concluded that the officer met the benchmark of Patterson. Id. at 33-34. (pp. 27-31)

3. In sum, jurisprudence construing N.J.S.A. 43:16A-7(1)’s “traumatic event” language mandates a two-step analysis in
cases in which a member claims permanent mental incapacity as a result of an exclusively psychological trauma. The
court first determines whether the member directly experienced a “terrifying or horror-inducing event that involves
actual or threatened death or serious injury, or a similarly serious threat to the physical integrity of the member or
another person.” Patterson, 
194 N.J. at 50. That event must be “of consequence and objectively capable of causing a
reasonable person to suffer a disabling mental injury.” Russo, 
206 N.J. at 31. If the event meets the Patterson test, the
court then applies the Richardson factors to the member’s application. Id. at 32-33. (pp. 31-32)

4. In Mount, the Board determined that the explosion and fire witnessed by Mount was a “terrifying or horror-inducing
event that involves actual or threatened death or serious injury,” so the Court does not consider the Patterson standard.
The Court stresses that to properly apply the Richardson standard, the Board and a reviewing court must carefully
consider not only the member’s job responsibilities and training, but all aspects of the event itself. No single factor
governs the analysis. In this case, by virtue of extraordinary circumstances, Mount confronted an incident that was
undesigned and unexpected, and therefore satisfied that component of the Richardson test. 
192 N.J. at 212-13.
However, the issue of causation is unresolved, so the Court remands the matter to the Appellate Division panel for its
consideration of whether Mount’s disability directly resulted from the January 10, 2007 incident. (pp. 32-35)

5. In Martinez, the Appellate Division panel reversed the Board’s determination that Martinez failed to satisfy the
Patterson standard. The panel concluded that Martinez had proven that he directly and personally experienced a
terrifying or horror-inducing event; the Court concurs. The Court disagrees with the panel, however, with respect to the
application of the Richardson factors, finding ample support in the record for the Board’s determination that Hoffman’s
shooting was not undesigned and unexpected. Accordingly, the Court reverses the Appellate Division’s determination
and reinstates the Board’s finding that Martinez is not entitled to accidental disability benefits. (pp. 35-39)

6. As Richardson reflects, the Court views the Legislature’s mandate that a member prove that his or her disability was
the direct result of a “traumatic event” to impose a significant limitation on the recovery of enhanced benefits. 
192 N.J.
at 210. Appeals that involve mental disabilities arising exclusively from mental stressors pose particular challenges in
that regard. Additional guidance from the Legislature would assist retirement system members, boards, and counsel as
they consider applications for benefits, and our courts as they review these important determinations. (pp. 39-40)

        In Mount, the judgment of the Appellate Division is REVERSED and the matter REMANDED. In
Martinez, the Appellate Division’s determination is REVERSED and the Board’s determination is REINSTATED.

     CHIEF JUSTICE RABNER and JUSTICES LaVECCHIA, ALBIN, FERNANDEZ-VINA,
SOLOMON, and TIMPONE join in JUSTICE PATTERSON’s opinion.
                                                          2
                                     SUPREME COURT OF NEW JERSEY
                                        A-
9 September Term 2016
                                       A-
83 September Term 2016
                                           078021 and 078823

CHRISTOPHER MOUNT,

    Appellant,

         v.

BOARD OF TRUSTEES, POLICE AND
FIREMEN’S RETIREMENT SYSTEM,

    Respondent.


GERARDO MARTINEZ,

    Respondent,

         v.

BOARD OF TRUSTEES, POLICE AND
FIREMEN’S RETIREMENT SYSTEM,

    Appellant.


         Argued November 28, 2017 – Decided June 5, 2018

         Christopher Mount v. Board of Trustees,
         Police and Firemen’s Retirement System
         (A-9-16): On certification to the Superior
         Court, Appellate Division.

         Gerardo Martinez v. Board of Trustees,
         Police and Firemen’s Retirement System
         (A-83-16): On certification to the Superior
         Court, Appellate Division.

         M. Scott Tashjy argued the cause for
         appellant in Christopher Mount v. Board of
         Trustees, Police and Firemen’s Retirement
         System (A-9-16) (The Tashjy Law Firm,
         attorneys; M. Scott Tashjy, on the briefs).
          Amy Chung, Deputy Attorney General, argued
          the cause for respondent in Christopher
          Mount v. Board of Trustees, Police and
          Firemen’s Retirement System (A-9-16)
          (Christopher S. Porrino, Attorney General,
          attorney; Melissa H. Raksa, Assistant
          Attorney General, of counsel; Daniel F.
          Thornton, Deputy Attorney General, on the
          letter brief).

          Amy Chung, Deputy Attorney General, argued
          the cause for appellant in Gerardo Martinez
          v. Board of Trustees, Police and Firemen’s
          Retirement System (A-83-16) (Christopher S.
          Porrino, Attorney General, attorney; Melissa
          H. Raksa, Assistant Attorney General, of
          counsel, and Daniel F. Thornton, Deputy
          Attorney General, on the brief).

          Louis M. Barbone argued the cause for
          respondent in Gerardo Martinez v. Board of
          Trustees, Police and Firemen’s Retirement
          System (A-83-16) (Jacobs & Barbone,
          attorneys; Louis M. Barbone, on the brief).


    JUSTICE PATTERSON delivered the opinion of the Court.

    A member of the Police and Firemen’s Retirement System

(PFRS) who is found to be “mentally or physically incapacitated”

from performing his or her usual duty or other available duty

may retire with accidental disability benefits, provided that he

or she meets the requirements prescribed by 
N.J.S.A. 43:16A-

7(1).   The statute mandates a medical board certification “that

the [PFRS] member is 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.”


                                2
Ibid.   When it enacted 
N.J.S.A. 43:16A-7(1), the Legislature

declined to define a “traumatic event” that warrants an award of

accidental disability benefits.       Ibid.    It left that

determination to the courts.

     In Richardson v. Board of Trustees, PFRS, 
192 N.J. 189,

212-13 (2007), we established a governing standard for

retirement system members’ accidental disability benefit

applications under 
N.J.S.A. 43:16A-7.         Under the Richardson

test, the member must prove, among other requirements, that the

traumatic event that he or she experienced was “undesigned and

unexpected.”   Ibid.

     For cases in which the member claims that he or she suffers

from a permanent mental incapacity as a result of an exclusively

psychological trauma, we amended our analysis.         Under the

standard established in Patterson v. Board of Trustees, SPRS,


194 N.J. 29, 34 (2008), the member must demonstrate that his or

her disability results “from direct personal experience of a

terrifying or horror-inducing event that involves actual or

threatened death or serious injury, or a similarly serious

threat to the physical integrity of the member or another

person,” and that the event is “not inconsequential but is

objectively capable of causing a reasonable person in similar

circumstances to suffer a disabling mental injury.”           If the

member meets Patterson’s threshold requirement, the court then

                                  3
applies the Richardson test; if he or she fails to do so, the

court denies accidental disability benefits without applying the

Richardson test.   Ibid.; see also Russo v. Bd. of Trs., PFRS,


206 N.J. 14, 32 (2011) (explaining that once Patterson’s horror-

inducing event standard is satisfied, “Richardson comes into

play”).

    In these appeals, the Court reviews two determinations of

the PFRS Board of Trustees (Board), each involving a police

officer’s claim that he was “mentally . . . incapacitated” by a

traumatic event within the meaning of 
N.J.S.A. 43:16A-7(1).     In

Mount v. Board of Trustees, PFRS, the Board and the Appellate

Division panel rejected Officer Christopher Mount’s claim that

he was permanently disabled because he witnessed at close range

the incineration of three young victims in an explosion after a

high-speed motor vehicle collision.   We hold that Mount has

proven that he experienced a terrifying or horror-inducing event

that meets the standard of Patterson, and that the event was

undesigned and unexpected within the meaning of Richardson.      We

therefore reverse the Appellate Division panel’s judgment and

remand to the panel to decide Mount’s claim that his mental

disability was a direct result of that incident.

    In Martinez v. Board of Trustees, PFRS, we review the

Appellate Division’s decision reversing the Board’s denial of

accidental disability benefits to Detective Gerardo Martinez, a

                                4
municipal police department’s hostage negotiator.     Martinez

claimed that his permanent disability resulted from

psychological injuries sustained when a lengthy hostage

negotiation ended with the shooting death of the hostage-taker,

as he and Martinez spoke by cellphone.   We hold that Martinez

has not demonstrated that the incident that caused his

disability was undesigned and unexpected under the Richardson

test, and therefore conclude that he is not entitled to

accidental disability benefits pursuant to 
N.J.S.A. 43:16A-7.

                                 I.

                                 A.

                                 1.

     Mount served as a Freehold Township police officer from

1996 until his retirement on May 1, 2010.1   Prior to joining the

Freehold Township Police Department, Mount was trained at the

Monmouth County Police Academy and served for three years as a

Monmouth County Sheriff’s Officer, working in courthouse

security and serving warrants.

     Although the New Jersey Civil Service Commission’s job

specifications for “police officer” state that an officer

“[r]emoves (or assists in removing) dead or injured from wrecked




1  We summarize the facts based on the record presented to the
Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) in each matter.

                                 5
and/or overturned vehicles by manually lifting them,” Mount

denied that he was trained to extract accident victims from

vehicles.     According to Mount, he was instructed to respond to a

motor vehicle accident by directing traffic, conducting crowd

control, and preparing accident reports.     He stated that prior

to the incident that gave rise to this appeal, he responded to

one fatal motor vehicle accident, to other accidents resulting

in serious injuries, and to emergency calls involving engine

fires.

    At approximately 2:00 p.m. on January 10, 2007, as Mount

drove his patrol vehicle on his regular shift, he received a

call from dispatch about a serious motor vehicle accident.

Mount immediately responded to the location of the accident.

Following police department protocol, he blocked traffic with

his patrol vehicle and ran to a sport utility vehicle that had

crossed the median and was facing north in a southbound lane.

It was later determined that three teenagers were in that

vehicle.

    Mount recalled that the vehicle was extensively damaged,

with black smoke emerging from the windows, and what “appeared

to be the arm of a human being” hanging from the driver’s side

window.     He heard no sound from the vehicle’s interior.   He

recalled that a group of bystanders were screaming at him, “[d]o



                                   6
something -- do something,” and that it was “getting pretty

chaotic” at the scene.

    Mount stated that when he was between a foot and a foot and

a half from the vehicle, it “immediately engulfed, exploded into

flames right in front of [him], right inside,” and that flames

were “billowing out of the windows of the car.”      He testified

that although the explosion did not knock him to the ground, it

pushed him backward.     Mount said that the heat from the

explosion was so intense that he “felt like [his] eyelashes were

going to burn off.”    On cross-examination, Mount conceded that

the explosion burned only his “[n]ose hairs, that’s about it,”

and that he sustained no physical injuries which would have

required medical treatment.

    Mount testified that he lacked any firefighting equipment

to combat the explosion and fire.      He stated that he had only a

crowbar, a small fire extinguisher intended to be used to put

out “paper fires,” and a basic medical kit, and that his

polyester uniform would “melt” in extreme heat.

    Mount called for more police patrols, emergency medical

technicians, and the municipal fire department, which had

already been contacted.     When the fire department arrived, Mount

sat in his patrol car as firefighters extinguished the fire.

    When “the smoke and the dust settled,” Mount returned to

the vehicle, and was able to view its interior.      From a distance

                                   7
of four to five feet, Mount saw “three human bodies that were

involved in that fire.”   Characterizing the scene as “the worst

I saw,” Mount recalled that the victims’ “skin was melted, the

clothing was melted on to the skin.”   He stated that

“[e]verything was just like a wax,” and that the victims “were

molded into their car, into the vehicle.   That’s how they

melted.”   Mount testified that “the smell of . . . burnt flesh

got into [his] nose, it got into [his] throat . . . .   Every

swallow that [he] took had that smell and that taste from the

burning flesh.”

    Mount did not touch the victims’ remains.    He did not

recall whether he witnessed the removal of the victims from the

vehicle.   He later learned that in addition to the three teenage

victims whom he had observed, the driver of the other car was

also killed in the accident, and a child in that car was

seriously injured.

    Mount contends that he began to experience psychological

problems after the January 10, 2007 accident.   According to

Mount, “something hit him,” but he “didn’t know what it was.”

Nonetheless, he continued to work as a Freehold Township police

officer for more than two years after the accident, and was not

treated for any psychiatric condition until 2009, when he

successfully underwent rehabilitation for alcohol abuse.     Mount

testified that he returned to work following rehabilitation, and

                                 8
that he was “working fine” but “[s]till was having problems”

which he could not identify.

     In 2010, Mount was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress

disorder (PTSD).   See American Psychiatric Association,

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 271 (5th

ed. 2013) (identifying diagnostic criteria for PTSD).      As Mount

explained the timing of his diagnosis, “[t]he PTSD wasn’t

observed or didn’t come out until 2010.”   Following that

diagnosis, he left his employment as a police officer.

                                2.

     On August 31, 2010, Mount applied for accidental disability

benefits.   He identified the January 10, 2007 incident as the

disabling event, and stated that he was mentally incapacitated

to serve as a police officer due to PTSD and anxiety.

     The Board determined that Mount was eligible for ordinary

disability benefits, but denied his application for accidental

disability benefits.   The Board agreed that Mount satisfied

several of N.J.S.A. 43:16A-7’s requirements.2   It found, however,




2  The Board found that Mount was permanently and totally
disabled from the performance of his regular and assigned
duties, and that he was physically or mentally incapacitated
from the performance of his usual duties or other duties that
his employer was willing to offer. It concluded that the
January 10, 2007 incident was identifiable as to time and place,
and that it occurred during and as a result of Mount’s regular
and assigned duties. The Board deemed Mount’s disability to be
caused by a circumstance external to Mount, and determined that
                                 9
that the January 10, 2007 incident was not “objectively capable

of causing a reasonable person in similar circumstances to

suffer a disabling mental injury” under Patterson, 
194 N.J. at
 51, and that the incident was not “undesigned and unexpected” as

Richardson requires, 
192 N.J. at 212.   Although the Board

reconsidered its decision at Mount’s request, it reaffirmed its

denial of accidental disability benefits.

    Mount appealed, and the matter was submitted as a contested

case to an ALJ, who conducted a hearing.    As the hearing began,

the ALJ noted that based on the agreement of counsel he would

address only two issues:   whether the January 10, 2007 accident

was undesigned and unexpected under Richardson, and whether that

accident was terrifying or horror-inducing in accordance with

Patterson.   He acknowledged the parties’ agreement that no

medical testimony would be presented.   Mount was the sole

witness at the hearing.

    In his decision, the ALJ rejected the Board’s determination

that Mount had failed to prove that he experienced a “terrifying

or horror-inducing event” under the Patterson test.    He noted

that Mount’s “experience involved witnessing a scene in which

three teenagers burned to death, smelling burning flesh, hearing




it was not the result of a preexisting disease, or the result of
his willful negligence.
                                10
concerned bystanders screaming for him to 'do something,’ and

having inadequate equipment to assist the victims.”

    The ALJ, however, ruled that Mount had failed to prove that

his disability was “solely and directly related to his

experience with the incident in question,” in light of his

continued work as a police officer immediately following the

incident and for two years thereafter.   He also found that the

motor vehicle accident was not undesigned and unexpected for

purposes of Richardson.   The ALJ therefore concluded that Mount

was ineligible for accidental disability benefits under 
N.J.S.A.

43:16A-7.

    In his exceptions to the ALJ’s decision, Mount contended

that before the case was presented to the ALJ, the Board had

conceded that Mount’s disability was a direct result of the

January 10, 2007 accident, and that the ALJ had improperly ruled

against him on the causation issue.   Counsel for the Board

acknowledged that there was a procedural issue, and stated that

“[s]hould the Board find that the issue of direct result was

properly before the ALJ, it should provide Mount with an

additional opportunity to present medical evidence to support

his claim.”

    The Board, however, adopted the ALJ’s findings of fact and

conclusions of law as a final agency decision, and did not

specifically comment on the question of whether Mount had been

                                11
afforded an opportunity to present evidence on the issue of

causation.

    Mount appealed the final agency decision to the Appellate

Division.     The Appellate Division panel did not address the

ALJ’s finding, adopted by the Board, that Mount’s disability was

not a direct result of the “terrifying or horror-inducing

event,” as Patterson requires.     It concurred with the ALJ and

the Board that because the “concededly horrific event” was

within Mount’s job description and contemplated by his training,

the event was neither undesigned nor unexpected under

Richardson.    It affirmed the Board’s decision.

    We granted certification.      
228 N.J. 56 (2016).

                                       B.

                                       1.

    Martinez joined the Hammonton Police Department in 1990.

In his fourth year of service, he was promoted to the rank of

detective.     In 2001, Martinez underwent forty hours of training

on hostage negotiation conducted by the Federal Bureau of

Investigation (FBI).     He was designated as a hostage negotiator

for the Hammonton Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team, and

was eventually appointed to serve as a negotiator for the

Atlantic County SWAT team.     Following his FBI hostage

negotiation course, Martinez took additional training courses on

hostage negotiation at least twice a year.

                                  12
    As both parties’ experts on hostage negotiation explained

to the ALJ, negotiators are trained to understand that the

tactical component of a SWAT team may elect to enter a building

without warning to confront a hostage-taker, and that such a

confrontation may end with the use of force.   Martinez’s expert

testified that a tactical team may conduct such an entry without

notifying the officer assigned to negotiate with a hostage-taker

in order to avoid the risk that a negotiator might inadvertently

alert the hostage-taker about an imminent tactical operation.

In his testimony, Martinez conceded that in his FBI course and

periodic training, he confronted training scenarios in which a

hostage standoff could not be peacefully resolved.   Martinez

knew, in short, that despite all best efforts, hostage

negotiations sometimes fail, and that an incident may end with

the use of lethal force.

    Although he was designated and trained as a hostage

negotiator for almost a decade, Martinez was never involved in

an actual hostage situation prior to the incident that gave rise

to this appeal.

    On April 25, 2010, Martinez was on his way to meet his son

for batting practice when he noticed police activity in a

residential area in Hammonton.   Although he was off-duty,

Martinez stopped to offer assistance.   Hammonton Police Chief

Frank Ingemi told Martinez that a tactical operation was

                                 13
underway at a nearby home.    He explained that a suspect in an

armed robbery committed in Deptford earlier that day -- later

identified as Donald Hoffman -- had eluded police officers and

fled to his mother’s home.    Armed with a handgun, Hoffman had

taken his mother, his sister, and his mother’s tenant hostage.

    When Martinez arrived, the Atlantic County SWAT team’s

supervisors were in charge of the scene, and snipers from that

team surrounded the residence.    Chief Ingemi had spoken to

Hoffman by cellphone from outside the home, but he had been

unable to persuade Hoffman to release the three hostages.

    Martinez was activated to duty and immediately assumed the

role of hostage negotiator.    He used Chief Ingemi’s cellphone to

speak with Hoffman from a communications van parked near the

home.   Although he spoke several times with Chief Ingemi,

Martinez was not in direct contact with the SWAT team

supervisors in charge of the scene or members of the tactical

team.

    Initially, Hoffman insisted to Martinez that he and his

hostages were “all going to die.”     He demanded to speak with the

President and the Governor.    As he was trained to do, Martinez

spoke to Hoffman in a calm and reassuring manner.     He addressed

Hoffman by his first name, and encouraged Hoffman to call him

“Gerry.”   In his conversations with Hoffman, Martinez broached a



                                 14
range of topics, including sports, hobbies, religion, food, and

children.

    After spending an hour speaking by cellphone with Martinez,

Hoffman released the three hostages, and they escaped from the

residence.   For the next ten hours, Hoffman remained in his

mother’s home, refusing to surrender to police.    First using

Chief Ingemi’s cellphone and later his own, Martinez had several

protracted conversations with Hoffman.   In those conversations,

Martinez sought to build Hoffman’s trust and to persuade him to

peacefully resolve his standoff with the police.

    At one point, Hoffman stated that he wanted to eat and

sleep.   He terminated his conversation with Martinez, promising

to call Martinez back.   Martinez attempted several times to

contact Hoffman by cellphone, but Hoffman did not respond to the

calls.

    As hours went by with no resolution, Chief Ingemi and other

officers were increasingly concerned that the standoff was

ongoing with only a few hours remaining until the time when

children in the neighborhood would be leaving for school.      They

decided to take affirmative steps to bring the situation to a

close.

    At approximately 3:00 a.m. on Monday, April 26, 2010, the

tactical team began firing tear gas canisters into the home.



                                15
The team conducted that phase of the operation for about an

hour.

       Martinez, still in the communications van, received a call

from dispatch stating that Hoffman had called 9-1-1 demanding to

speak with him.    When dispatch connected Hoffman to Martinez by

cellphone, Hoffman exclaimed, “Gerry, Gerry, what’s going on?

They’re going to kill me.    You know, what are you doing?”

Martinez responded, “No, Don.     Come out . . . .    We’re going to

help you out.”

       At 4:17 a.m., without alerting Martinez in advance, the

tactical team entered the home.    Chief Ingemi testified that he

chose not to inform Martinez of the tactical operation in

advance because he knew that Martinez would be upset about that

development and would try to persuade the supervising officers

to keep the tactical team out of the home.

       Martinez, still speaking with Hoffman by cellphone, heard a

commotion as officers moved through the house.       One officer

spotted Hoffman in a rear bathroom, holding his cellphone to his

ear.    Hoffman pointed a handgun at the officer and announced

that he would shoot the officer.       The officer heard Hoffman say

“Gerry -- Gerry, like, why.”    The officer heard a click as

Hoffman unsuccessfully attempted to fire his gun, which was

later determined to have malfunctioned.      The officer fired two

shots at Hoffman, killing him.    Through the cellphone

                                  16
connection, Martinez heard Hoffman yell “Gerry, Gerry . . . .

Help me.    Help me, Gerry.   They’re going to kill me,” followed

by “two pops” and then silence.

    As Martinez left the communications van and walked to the

street in an effort to compose himself, he saw officers remove

Hoffman’s body from the house and place it on the lawn.    He

later saw Hoffman’s body at the same location, covered in a

white sheet.

    Following the incident, Martinez returned to work as a

Hammonton detective but “just couldn’t do the job.”     He stated

that as a result of Hoffman’s death, he suffered from

flashbacks, erratic sleep patterns, irritability, irregular

diet, and a sense of isolation.

    Martinez was diagnosed with PTSD and major depressive

disorder.   He was initially placed on administrative leave and

collected workers’ compensation benefits.    Martinez briefly

returned to work, then left the Hammonton Police Department; his

last day of work was July 14, 2011, fourteen months after the

incident.    He briefly held a management job in a business, but

it “didn’t work out.”

                                  2.

    On October 13, 2011, Martinez applied for accidental

disability benefits, and requested a retirement date of March 1,

2012.   He stated that he was incapacitated for further service

                                  17
as a police officer due to his PTSD and depression, and that he

was “re-experiencing” the incident that ended with Hoffman’s

death.

     The Board found Martinez to be eligible for ordinary

disability benefits but ineligible for accidental disability

benefits.   The Board conceded that Martinez had met some of the

requirements prescribed by 
N.J.S.A. 43:16A-7(1).3   It concluded,

however, that the April 25-26 incident was not undesigned and

unexpected for purposes of Richardson.   The Board found “no

evidence that the event was objectively capable of causing a

reasonable person in similar circumstances to suffer a disabling

mental injury” under Patterson, because Martinez did not have a

“direct personal experience of a terrifying or horror-inducing

event that involved actual or threatened death or serious

injury, or a similarly serious threat to the physical integrity

of the member or another person.”




3  The Board concluded that Martinez was permanently and totally
disabled from the performance of his regular and assigned job
duties and that he was physically or mentally incapacitated from
the performance of his usual duties or other duties that his
employer was willing to offer. It further found that the event
that caused Martinez’s reported disability was identifiable as
to time and place, that it was caused by a circumstance external
to Martinez, that it was not the result of a preexisting
disease, and that it occurred during and as a result of
Martinez’s regular and assigned duties. The Board also found
that Martinez’s disability was not the result of his willful
negligence.
                                18
    Martinez appealed, and the matter was submitted as a

contested case to an ALJ.     At the hearing before the ALJ,

Martinez, other officers, and both parties’ hostage-negotiation

experts testified.

    Relying primarily on Martinez’s PTSD diagnosis, the ALJ

ruled that Martinez was entitled to accidental disability

pension benefits.     He found that Martinez “had a direct personal

experience of a terrifying or horror-inducing event” that met

the objective reasonableness standard of Patterson because he

conducted protracted hostage negotiations that ended with

Hoffman’s death.     He further concluded that the event was

undesigned and unexpected under Richardson because Hoffman’s

shooting was “a complete surprise” to Martinez.

    In a final agency decision, the Board rejected the ALJ’s

determination in favor of Martinez.     It adopted the ALJ’s

findings of fact with an addition:     “there was nothing that

occurred [during the incident] that [Martinez] should not have

been prepared for as a trained negotiator.”     The Board found the

ALJ’s conclusions of law, particularly the ALJ’s reliance on the

PTSD diagnosis, to be erroneous, and stated that in order to be

“undesigned and unexpected,” an event must involve “something

more than the mere performance of the regular and assigned

duties.”



                                  19
    Martinez appealed the Board’s decision.     An Appellate

Division panel concluded that Martinez had experienced a

“terrifying or horror-inducing event” -- a fatal shooting -- and

satisfied the Patterson test.   It further held that the shooting

was undesigned and unexpected for purposes of Richardson.      The

panel reasoned that an incident may be undesigned and unexpected

even if, in hindsight, the employee could have anticipated that

it could occur, and that an employee’s general training does not

convert an unexpected event into an expected one.    The panel

therefore reversed the Board’s determination.

    We granted the Board’s petition for certification.     
230 N.J. 496 (2017).

                                II.

                                A.

    We review the Board’s decisions in these appeals in

accordance with a deferential standard of review.    “An

administrative agency’s final quasi-judicial decision will be

sustained unless there is a clear showing that it is arbitrary,

capricious, or unreasonable, or that it lacks fair support in

the record.”   Russo, 
206 N.J. at 27 (quoting In re Herrmann, 
192 N.J. 19, 27-28 (2007)); accord In re Carter, 
191 N.J. 474, 482-

83 (2007).   We are not, however, “'bound by an agency’s

interpretation of a statute or its determination of a strictly

legal issue,’ particularly when 'that interpretation is

                                20
inaccurate or contrary to legislative objectives.’”    Russo, 
207 N.J. at 27 (first quoting Mayflower Sec. Co. v. Bureau of Sec.,

Div. of Consumer Affairs, 
64 N.J. 85, 93 (1973); then quoting

G.S. v. Dep’t of Human Servs., DYFS, 
157 N.J. 161, 170 (1999)).

Instead, we review de novo the Board’s interpretation of


N.J.S.A. 43:16A-7(1) and our case law.   Ibid.; Ardan v. Bd. of

Review, 
231 N.J. 589, 604 (2018) (“[A]n appellate court is 'in

no way bound by the agency’s interpretation of a statute or its

determination of a strictly legal issue.’”   (quoting U.S. Bank,

N.A. v. Hough, 
210 N.J. 187, 200 (2012))).

                                B.

    “Like all of the public retirement systems, the PFRS

includes provisions for the grant of ordinary and accidental

disability benefits.”   Patterson, 
194 N.J. at 42 (citing


N.J.S.A. 43:16A-6 to -7).   “[A] [PFRS] member can qualify for

ordinary disability benefits if he is disabled for any reason;

the disability need not have a work connection.”     Russo, 
206 N.J. at 28.

    To be eligible for greater benefits under the accidental

disability provision, however, a PFRS member must satisfy

N.J.S.A. 43:16A-7(1)’s more rigorous requirements.    That

provision authorizes an award of benefits provided that

         the medical board, after a medical examination
         of such member, shall certify that the member
         is permanently and totally disabled as a

                                21
          direct result of a traumatic event occurring
          during and as a result of the performance of
          his regular or assigned duties and that such
          disability was not the result of the member’s
          willful negligence and that such member is
          mentally or physically incapacitated for the
          performance of his usual duty and of any other
          available duty in the department which his
          employer is willing to assign to him.

          [N.J.S.A. 43:16A-7(1).]4

     The Legislature did not define the term “traumatic event”

for purposes of the PFRS statute or the analogous statutes that

govern other public employee retirement systems.5   In the absence

of statutory guidance as to the meaning of the term, appellate

judges have long grappled with “the elusive concept of what

constitutes a 'traumatic event.’”    Gable v. Bd. of Trs., PERS,


115 N.J. 212, 215 (1989).   As we have noted, “the question of



4  If a PFRS member applies for accidental disability benefits,
and the Board finds that he or she “is not eligible for
accidental disability since the incapacity is not a direct
result of a traumatic event occurring during and as a result of
the performance of the member’s regular or assigned duties,” the
member “will be retired on an ordinary disability retirement
allowance.” N.J.A.C. 17:4-6.7.

5  The Prison Officers’ Pension Fund, 
N.J.S.A. 43:7-12; the
Public Employees’ Retirement System, 
N.J.S.A. 43:15A-43; the
State Police Retirement System, 
N.J.S.A. 53:5A-10(a); and the
Teachers’ Pension and Annuity Fund, 
N.J.S.A. 18A:66-39(c), all
offer accidental disability benefits. The requirements for
accidental disability benefits under those statutes are
substantially similar to the requirements of 
N.J.S.A. 43:16A-
7(1). None of the statutes includes a definition of the term
“traumatic event” in its definition section. See 
N.J.S.A.
18A:66-2; 
N.J.S.A. 43:15A-6; 
N.J.S.A. 43:16A-1; 
N.J.S.A. 53:5A-
3.
                                22
what constitutes a 'traumatic event’ . . . has dogged courts for

generations.”   Russo, 
206 N.J. at 28.

    In one of our early decisions interpreting 
N.J.S.A. 43:16A-

7(1), we observed that a “'traumatic event’ would ordinarily

involve a mishap or accident involving the application of some

kind of external force to the body or the violent exposure of

the body to some external force.”    Cattani v. Bd. of Trs., PFRS,


69 N.J. 578, 586 (1976).   Following an amendment to the statute,

we adopted a three-part test requiring that a member

demonstrate:

         (1) that his injuries were not induced by the
         stress or strain of the normal work effort;

         (2) that he met involuntarily with the object
         or matter that was the source of the harm; and

         (3) that the source of the injury itself was
         a great rush of force or uncontrollable power.

         [Kane v. Bd. of Trs., PFRS, 
100 N.J. 651, 663
         (1985).]

    The Kane standard was criticized as impractical and

producing inconsistent results; one Appellate Division panel

viewed that standard to provide “no uniformly workable basis” to

predict the outcome in a typical case.    Caminiti v. Bd. of Trs.,

PFRS, 
394 N.J. Super. 478, 482 (App. Div. 2007); see also

Richardson, 
192 N.J. at 208-09 (noting inconsistent Appellate

Division cases applying Kane standard).   As we acknowledged when



                                23
we decided Richardson, our jurisprudence was “in need of a

course correction.”   
192 N.J. at 210.

    Richardson arose from a corrections officer’s claim of

accidental disability benefits predicated on a physical

disability resulting from the officer’s altercation with an

inmate.   Id. at 193-94.   Noting that N.J.S.A. 43:16A-7(1)’s

express terms starkly limit the grant of accidental disability

benefits, we prescribed a five-pronged standard mandating that a

PFRS member seeking such benefits prove

          1. that he       is   permanently   and   totally
          disabled;

          2. as a direct result of a traumatic event
          that is

             a.   identifiable as to time and place,

             b.   undesigned and unexpected, and

             c. caused by a circumstance external to
             the member (not the result of pre-existing
             disease that is aggravated or accelerated
             by the work);

          3. that the traumatic event occurred during
          and as a result of the member’s regular or
          assigned duties;

          4. that the disability was not the result of
          the member’s willful negligence; and

          5. that the member is mentally or physically
          incapacitated from performing his usual or any
          other duty.

          [Id. at 212-13.]



                                  24
    We characterized as “[t]he polestar of the inquiry” the

question “whether, during the regular performance of his job, an

unexpected happening, not the result of pre-existing disease

alone or in combination with the work, has occurred and directly

resulted in the permanent and total disability of the member.”

Id. at 214.

    In Richardson, we set forth several examples of undesigned

and unexpected events:     “[a] policeman can be shot while

pursuing a suspect; a librarian can be hit by a falling

bookshelf while re-shelving books; a social worker can catch her

hand in the car door while transporting a child to court.”

Ibid.   We also contrasted an officer who has a heart attack

while chasing a suspect, who has not experienced a “traumatic

event” under 
N.J.S.A. 43:16A-7, with an officer disabled during

a chase due to a fall, who has suffered such a “traumatic

event.”   Id. at 213.    We explained that a gym teacher who

develops arthritis from repetitive effects of his work over the

years is not entitled to accidental disability benefits, whereas

“the same gym teacher who trips over a riser and is injured has

satisfied the standard.”    Ibid.    We anticipated that those

examples would facilitate application of the statutory

“traumatic event” standard in a diverse array of settings.

    In the wake of Richardson, an Appellate Division panel

applied the “undesigned and unexpected” standard to a

                                    25
firefighter’s claim for accidental disability benefits.      See

Moran v. Bd. of Trs., PFRS, 
438 N.J. Super. 346, 353-55 (App.

Div. 2014).   In Moran, the PFRS member was assigned to a fire

department’s engine company, and was primarily responsible for

transporting fire equipment into a building and extinguishing

fires, not rescuing victims.    Id. at 349.    The member responded

to a fire at what was thought to be a vacant home before the

arrival of his department’s truck company, which was equipped

and trained for fire rescues.    Id. at 350.   After hearing the

screams of people trapped in the home, he used his “shoulder,

leg and back” to break down the door and rescued the victims.

Ibid.   He sustained serious injuries in the process.     Id. at

347.

       Reversing the Board’s denial of accidental disability

benefits, a decision that the Board had premised on Moran’s

conduct of “one of his expected work-related duties, rescuing

fire victims,” id. at 353, the Appellate Division panel found

the incident to be undesigned and unexpected:

           The undesigned and unexpected event here was
           the combination of unusual circumstances that
           led to Moran’s injury:     the failure of the
           truck unit to arrive, and the discovery of
           victims trapped inside a fully engulfed
           burning building, at a point when Moran did
           not have available to him the tools that would
           ordinarily be used to break down the door. As
           a result, he was forced to carry out his
           paramount duty to rescue fire victims, by
           manually kicking in the door.      Had he not

                                 26
          responded immediately to break down the door,
          the victims would have died. That was Moran’s
          unrebutted, credible testimony.

          [Id. at 354 (footnote omitted).]

     The panel recognized the officer’s job responsibilities and

training to be relevant factors, and carefully analyzed those

factors along with the circumstances that confronted the

officer, thereby concluding that the event was undesigned and

unexpected.
6 Id. at 354-55.

     In Patterson, we addressed a difficult issue not raised by

Richardson:    what standard should govern when a member premises

his or her claim for accidental disability benefits on “a

permanent mental disability as a result of a mental stressor,

without any physical impact.”    Patterson, 
194 N.J. at 33.   We

observed that “in the context of psychological injuries, the

proofs related to the traumatic nature of an event and the

causal relationship between event and injury may be more

problematic than in the case of a physical event.”    Id. at 48.

We acknowledged that “the [retirement system] boards have

expressed legitimate concerns about becoming bogged down in

litigation over idiosyncratic responses by members to

inconsequential mental stressors.”    Id. at 48-49.




6  We do not consider the application of the “undesigned and
unexpected” standard to first responders who have sustained
physical injuries.
                                 27
    To address those concerns, we limited the recovery of

accidental disability benefits to situations in which the member

is disabled by “stressors sufficient to inflict a disabling

injury when experienced by a reasonable person in similar

circumstances.”   Id. at 50.   As examples of retirement system

members who “could vault the traumatic event threshold,” we

cited “a permanently mentally disabled policeman who sees his

partner shot; a teacher who is held hostage by a student; and a

government lawyer used as a shield by a defendant.”    Ibid.

    Our decision in Patterson thus gave rise to a threshold

inquiry in a particularly challenging category of applications.

We required that a member, seeking to predicate an award of

accidental disability benefits on a mental disability due

entirely to mental stressors, prove that the disability resulted

from a “direct personal experience of a terrifying or horror-

inducing event that involves actual or threatened death or

serious injury, or a similarly serious threat to the physical

integrity of the member or another person.”    Id. at 34.   We

reasoned that this requirement would “achieve the important

assurance that the traumatic event posited as the basis for an

accidental disability pension is not inconsequential but is

objectively capable of causing a reasonable person in similar

circumstances to suffer a disabling mental injury.”    Ibid.



                                 28
      Applying the new standard to the claims of the three law

enforcement officers who pursued the Patterson appeal, we found

that a member who was mentally disabled because of a superior

officer’s disparaging comments fell short of that benchmark, and

was not entitled to benefits.    Id. at 51.   In contrast, an

officer subjected to death threats from other officers and an

officer whose wife and daughter were threatened by gang members

met the threshold determination prescribed by that decision.

Id. at 53.   In both of those appeals, the Court remanded for a

determination whether they met the remaining requirements of


N.J.S.A. 43:16A-7(1).    Id. at 51-53.

      Following our decision in Patterson, we applied its

standard in two divergent settings.      Russo arose from the mental

disability claim of a police officer -- neither trained nor

equipped to confront a major fire -- who was ordered into a

burning house to rescue the residents.     
206 N.J. at 19.   The

officer heard the cries of a victim, trapped on an upper floor,

but was prevented by the intense flame and heat from reaching

that victim.   Ibid.    The officer’s distress over that victim’s

death was compounded by the statements of family members at the

scene, who blamed him for failing to rescue the victim.      Id. at

20.   The officer was diagnosed with PTSD following that event,

and was found by the expert for the Board of Trustees to be



                                  29
permanently and totally disabled as a result of the fire.
7 Id.

at 20-21.

     We concluded in Russo that the officer met the benchmark of

Patterson.   Id. at 33-34.    Although we cited Russo’s lack of

firefighting training and equipment as a relevant factor, our

decision was also premised on the extraordinary intensity of the

fire, Russo’s exposure to the victim’s cries for help, and the

relatives’ recriminations in the midst of a family tragedy.

Ibid.   Those factors collectively gave rise to a terrifying or

horror-inducing event that was objectively capable of causing a

reasonable person in similar circumstances to suffer a disabling

mental injury.   Id. at 34.

     The member’s claim in Thompson v. Board of Trustees, TPAF,


449 N.J. Super. 478, 481-83 (App. Div. 2017), aff’d, ___ N.J.

___ (2018), presented a stark contrast to the claim that gave

rise to Russo.   There, a former health and physical education

teacher who taught students with disabilities sought accidental

disability benefits under 
N.J.S.A. 18A:66-39(c), a provision

addressing such claims when they are asserted by members of the


7  Although Russo was hospitalized overnight for smoke
inhalation, his application for accidental disability benefits
was premised exclusively on his mental disability, not a
disabling physical injury. Russo, 
206 N.J. at 19-20. Thus,
Patterson governed. Id. at 18-19; cf. Caminiti v. Bd. of Trs.,
PFRS, 
431 N.J. Super. 1, 14 (App. Div. 2013) (“The Patterson
standard is inapplicable where [an applicant] suffers both a
physical and psychiatric injury.”).
                                  30
Teachers’ Pension and Annuity Fund.    Id. at 483-84.   The member

premised her application on three incidents during physical

education classes in the course of a nine-month span:       an

incident in which a student punched and slapped her; an incident

in which a student pushed and shoved her; and an incident in

which a student swore at her, briefly restrained her hands, and

unsuccessfully attempted to punch her.     Id. at 481-82.    When all

three incidents occurred, multiple teachers’ aides were present

in the room and able to assist the teacher, and school security

could readily be summoned.   Ibid.

    Noting the absence of evidence that the teacher’s

encounters with the students involved “actual or threatened

death or serious injury” under Patterson, the Appellate Division

panel affirmed the Board’s determination rejecting the teacher’s

application for benefits.    Id. at 481.   We affirmed the panel’s

finding that the member’s mental disability claim in Thompson

failed the Patterson objective reasonableness test.     Thompson,

___ N.J. at ___ (slip op. at 1).

    In sum, our jurisprudence construing N.J.S.A. 43:16A-7(1)’s

“traumatic event” language mandates a two-step analysis in cases

in which a member claims permanent mental incapacity as a result

of an exclusively psychological trauma.    The court first

determines whether the member directly experienced a “terrifying

or horror-inducing event that involves actual or threatened

                                 31
death or serious injury, or a similarly serious threat to the

physical integrity of the member or another person.”      Patterson,


194 N.J. at 50.   That event must be “of consequence and

objectively capable of causing a reasonable person to suffer a

disabling mental injury.”    Russo, 
206 N.J. at 31.     If the event

meets the Patterson test, the court then applies the Richardson

factors to the member’s application.    Id. at 32-33.

    We apply that standard to these appeals.

                                 C.

                                 1.

    In Mount v. Board of Trustees, PFRS, the Board adopted the

ALJ’s finding that the explosion and fire witnessed by Mount was

a “terrifying or horror-inducing event that involves actual or

threatened death or serious injury.”   Consequently, we need not

consider the Patterson standard in this appeal.       The Board also

found in favor of Mount with respect to all components of the

Richardson test, save two:   the requirement that the event was

undesigned and unexpected, and the requirement that the member

prove that his or her mental disability was the direct result of

the “traumatic event,” as 
N.J.S.A. 43:16A-7(1) requires.

    Addressing whether Mount’s accident was undesigned and

unexpected under Richardson, the parties dispute the

significance of Mount’s job description and training.      Mount

contends that the Appellate Division panel improperly relied on

                                 32
our observation in Russo that “an employee who experiences a

horrific event which falls within his job description and for

which he has been trained will be unlikely to pass the

'undesigned and unexpected’ test.”     
206 N.J. at 33.   The Board

maintains that because the incident fell squarely within Mount’s

job description, he cannot satisfy the “undesigned and

unexpected” standard of Richardson.

    Our comment about training in Russo should not be construed

to mean that the inquiry regarding whether an event is

“undesigned and unexpected” is resolved merely by reviewing the

member’s job description and the scope of his or her training.

In a given case, those considerations may weigh strongly for or

against an award of accidental disability benefits.      To properly

apply the Richardson standard, however, the Board and a

reviewing court must carefully consider not only the member’s

job responsibilities and training, but all aspects of the event

itself.   No single factor governs the analysis.

    In this case, Mount confronted a catastrophic accident at

close range.   He initially viewed a victim’s arm hanging from

the vehicle’s window.   Bystanders approached the vehicle

demanding that Mount rescue the occupants.     With no firefighting

equipment except a small fire extinguisher, Mount faced the

imminent threat of an explosion.     Within moments, the car burst

into flames.   As Mount learned minutes later, the explosion

                                33
“melted” the young victims’ bodies into the interior of the

vehicle.

    By virtue of his job description, training, and prior

experience, Mount could anticipate being called to accidents

that were serious or even fatal.       As his job description

suggests, in some circumstances Mount would be expected to

remove victims from a damaged vehicle pending the arrival of

medical personnel.    Mount, however, was not trained to combat,

unassisted, an explosion of such magnitude experienced at such a

close range.   With no firefighting equipment or protective gear,

he was helpless in the face of a terrible tragedy.

    We conclude that by virtue of those extraordinary

circumstances, Mount confronted an incident that was undesigned

and unexpected, and therefore satisfied that component of the

Richardson test.     
192 N.J. at 212-13.    Accordingly, we hold that

the Board’s determination that Mount did not experience a

“traumatic event” for purposes of 
N.J.S.A. 43:16A-7(1) lacked

fair support in the record, and that the Appellate Division

panel should have reversed that determination. See Russo, 
206 N.J. at 27; Carter, 
191 N.J. at 482-83.

    That holding, however, does not entirely resolve this

appeal.    In accordance with N.J.S.A. 43:16A-7(1)’s language,

Patterson and Richardson impose a burden on the member to

demonstrate that his or her mental disability directly resulted

                                  34
from the qualifying traumatic event.   See 
N.J.S.A. 43:16A-7(1)

(imposing requirement that member prove he or she “is

permanently and totally disabled as a direct result of a

traumatic event”); Patterson, 
194 N.J. at 50 (requiring that

member’s disability “result from direct personal experience” of

qualifying traumatic event); Richardson, 
192 N.J. at 213

(mandating that member prove disability was “a direct result” of

qualifying traumatic event).   For reasons that the record does

not entirely explain, the ALJ made a causation finding with no

medical proof from either party, the Board did not address that

finding, and the Appellate Division panel did not reach the

question whether Mount proved that his mental disability

directly resulted from the January 10, 2007 accident.   The issue

of causation is thus unresolved.

    We remand this matter to the Appellate Division panel for

its consideration of whether Mount’s disability directly

resulted from the January 10, 2007 incident.   If the panel

determines that the record is inadequate for that determination,

it may remand the case so that the parties may supplement the

record on that issue.

                                2.

    In Martinez v. Board of Trustees, PFRS, the Appellate

Division panel reversed the Board’s determination that Martinez

failed to satisfy the Patterson standard.   The panel concluded

                                35
that Martinez had proven that he directly and personally

experienced a terrifying or horror-inducing event.

    The Board urges that we uphold its finding that Martinez

experienced Hoffman’s death only remotely, not directly and

personally as our decision in Patterson requires.     Martinez

counters that after speaking with Hoffman over a period of

twelve to fourteen hours, and hearing Hoffman’s cries for help

as the shooting occurred, he had a direct personal experience of

a terrifying or horror-inducing event.    He contends that the

Appellate Division properly found that he satisfied the

Patterson test.

    We concur with the Appellate Division panel that Martinez

directly and personally experienced a terrifying or horror-

inducing event under Patterson and hold that the Board’s finding

on that issue lacked fair support in the record.      See Russo, 
206 N.J. at 27; Carter, 
191 N.J. at 482-83.

    The panel properly observed that although Martinez

experienced no threat to his own safety, the incident involved a

threat of death or serious injury “to the physical integrity of

. . . another person.”   Patterson, 
194 N.J. at 50.    We share the

panel’s view that Martinez’s experience of Hoffman’s shooting

was direct and personal, given his lengthy conversations with

Hoffman prior to the shooting, Hoffman’s pleas for help to

Martinez as he was killed, and Martinez’s view of Hoffman’s body

                                36
as it was transported outside.    That incident meets Patterson’s

objective reasonableness standard.    See ibid.

    We disagree with the panel, however, with respect to its

reversal of the Board’s ruling as to the application of the

Richardson factors.    We find ample support in the record for the

Board’s determination that Hoffman’s shooting was not undesigned

and unexpected.   See Russo, 
206 N.J. at 27; Carter, 
191 N.J. at
 482-83.

    Martinez’s expert explained why a hostage negotiator in

telephone contact with a suspect may not be informed that a

tactical entry is imminent.   The record established that based

on his training, Martinez had reason to anticipate that, without

prior warning to him, a tactical entry might be made into the

home of Hoffman’s mother.

    Moreover, the ALJ and the Board did not rely exclusively on

Martinez’s training.    Instead, they considered evidence

regarding the precise police tactics that were used in this

specific case and the warning that those tactics gave Martinez

that the hostage standoff might end violently.

    Police officers testified about the sequence of events

during the early morning of April 26, 2010 that led to Hoffman’s

shooting.   For a full hour before Hoffman was shot, the tactical

team attempted to flush him from the residence by throwing tear

gas canisters through various windows.    Martinez knew, from the

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sounds he heard over the telephone, that this phase of the

tactical operation was underway.      He also knew that tear gas

failed to bring about Hoffman’s peaceful surrender.      Martinez

had every reason to expect that the next step would be the

tactical team’s entry into the home.      Based on Hoffman’s

behavior, it was readily apparent that if SWAT team members

forced their way into the residence, a violent encounter could

occur.   In a time span of only a few hours, Hoffman committed an

armed robbery, eluded police officers, held the SWAT team at bay

with a firearm, and threatened his mother, his sister, and a

third individual.   Hoffman initially told Martinez that the

situation would end with the death of his hostages, police

officers, and himself.   Although Martinez’s skill and ingenuity

led to the hostages’ release and defused the situation for many

hours, Hoffman’s statements and conduct portended a violent

confrontation with police.

    In short, the Board’s conclusion that Hoffman’s shooting

was not undesigned and unexpected was premised on far more than

a formulaic review of Martinez’s job description and training.

It was also based on the sequence of events that led to

Hoffman’s death.    Although the shooting was clearly devastating

to Martinez -- an officer exemplary for his professionalism and

compassion in highly stressful circumstances -- it was not

“undesigned and unexpected” under Richardson.

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    Accordingly, we reverse the Appellate Division’s

determination and reinstate the Board’s finding that Martinez is

not entitled to accidental disability benefits under 
N.J.S.A.

43:16A-7(1).

                                III.

    In our applications of 
N.J.S.A. 43:16A-7(1) and analogous

provisions regarding accidental disability benefits, we have

endeavored to discern and advance the Legislature’s intent, as

expressed in its statutory language.     See Russo, 
206 N.J. at 27;

Patterson, 
194 N.J. at 47; Richardson, 
192 N.J. at 210-12; Kane,


100 N.J. at 662-63.   When we construe those statutes, we are

mindful of the Legislature’s intent to assist certain first

responders and other retirement system members disabled under

extraordinary circumstances while conserving the limited

resources of the retirement funds.     As Richardson reflects, we

view the Legislature’s mandate that a member prove that his or

her disability was the direct result of a “traumatic event” to

impose a significant limitation on the recovery of enhanced

benefits.   
192 N.J. at 210.   Appeals such as Patterson and the

two matters now before the Court, which involve mental

disabilities arising exclusively from mental stressors, pose

particular challenges in that regard.

    The Legislature has the authority to refine the statutory

language to clarify its intent regarding the term “traumatic

                                 39
event” as it applies in future cases.     It may consider a

statutory provision governing claims for accidental disability

benefits based on physical injuries sustained by first

responders.   It may also decide to enact a provision separately

addressing cases arising from mental disabilities attributed

exclusively to mental stressors.     Additional guidance from the

Legislature would assist retirement system members, boards, and

counsel as they consider applications for benefits, and our

courts as they review these important determinations.

                                IV.

    In Mount, we reverse the Appellate Division panel’s

judgment and remand the matter to the panel for its review of

the Board’s determination that Mount’s disability was not the

“direct result” of the event that he experienced on January 10,

2007.

    In Martinez, we reverse the Appellate Division panel’s

determination and reinstate the Board’s determination.



     CHIEF JUSTICE RABNER and JUSTICES LaVECCHIA, ALBIN,
FERNANDEZ-VINA, SOLOMON, and TIMPONE join in JUSTICE PATTERSON’s
opinion.




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