Accidental Disability Retirement Denial Reversed

The State Board of Retirement’s denial of an accidental disability retirement of a state employee was recently reversed on appeal when it was demonstrated that the injured employee was in in the performance of her duties when she was injured. She was in a motor vehicle accident while she was operating a state-owned official vehicle. When the accident occurred, she was traveling from a state-sponsored work to her office where she was going to resume working.

In the case of Burgess v. State Retirement Board, the claimant worked for the Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety and Security as the Director of the Office of Grants and Research of the Highway Safety Division. She swerved to avoid an accident, drove off the road, and crashed into a boulder. She suffered a traumatic brain injury in the crash and tore her right rotator cuff. She has had two surgeries since then to repair her rotator cuff. She received workers’ compensation.

The Massachusetts State Retirement Board refused to grant a regional medical panel because it determined that the claimant failed to establish that she was injured “as a result of and while in the performance of her duties,” as the retirement law requires. This case illustrates the difficulties often encounter by those seeking disability retirement benefits. Public employees who are injured at their place of employment, but not while performing any work obligation at the time of the injury, or those who are injured while traveling to work or leaving their place of employment after completing their work for the day, are not eligible for accidental disability retirement. Employees hurt while at lunch or while traveling home have been routinely denied benefits.

In this case, in reversing the denial, the Massachusetts Division of Administrative Law Appeals correctly noted that “An employee permanently injured while transitioning from one task to another may be eligible for accidental disability retirement so long as the task the employee is leaving and the task the employee is about to undertake are both employment obligations.” The Administrative Magistrate determined that the Claimant was driving between a work obligation at Fort Devens and a work obligation at her office. Therefore, she was in the performance of her duties when she sustained disabling injuries in the automobile accident.