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Bunk v. Port Authority of New York and New Jersey

5/22/1996

(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 interests of brevity, portions of any opinion may not have been summarized).


John R. Bunk v. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (A-53/54-95)


Argued January 2, 1996 -- Decided May 22, 1996


O'HERN, J., writing for a unanimous Court.


The question posed on this appeal is whether a worker entitled to receive workers' compensation benefits as an employee of one of the State's bi-state agencies receives those benefits on the same terms and under the same limitations as would other public employees in the State.


John Bunk is employed by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (the Port Authority). Bunk lives in New Jersey. On September 6, 1988, he was driving a Port Authority truck in New York City when the brakes failed and the truck struck a wall and several other vehicles, causing serious injuries to Bunk. Because of those injuries, Bunk was unable to resume his regular duties with the Port Authority. Bunk applied for an received Social Security disability benefits. He also applied for and received a disability retirement pension from the Port Authority. (The Port Authority funds its public employees' retirement through the New York State and Local Employees Retirement System.)


Bunk also sought compensation for his injuries under the New Jersey Workers' Compensation Act (Act). A Judge of Compensation, believing she was bound by N.J.S.A. 34:15-43 (Section 43) of the Act, denied any award for the permanent disability related to the accident. At the time, Section 43 provided that a former employee who had been retired on pension by reason of injury or disability was not entitled to compensation benefits for such injury or disability.


Bunk appealed the decision of the Judge of Compensation. The Appellate Division reversed, concluding that Hess v. Port Authority Trans-Hudson Corp. (Hess) had diminished the precedential value of Wright v. Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (Wright), which had applied Section 43 to Port Authority employees. The Hess court held that the Port Authority was not, for purposes of Eleventh Amendment immunity, a public body of the State.


The Supreme Court granted the Port Authority's petition for certification. The Attorney General intervenes on behalf of the Second Injury Fund because the combination of this injury and other occupational diseases may have left Bunk totally and permanently disabled.


HELD: N.J.S.A. 34:15-43 of the Workers' Compensation Act (Section 43), which limits workers' compensation benefits of public employees receiving a disability pension for the same injury, is applicable to an employee of the bi-state agency, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.


1. In 1931, Section 43 was amended to prevent New Jersey state employees from simultaneously obtaining accidental disability pension benefits and workers' compensation benefits for the same injury. In 1951, New York and New Jersey agreed to waive the Port Authority's sovereign immunity and consented to suits, including workers' compensation suits, against the Port Authority. In 1971, the New Jersey Legislature amended various State retirement programs, the general effect of which was to allow New Jersey state employees to receive both workers' compensation and disability retirement benefits, with worker's compensation being offset against the retirement benefits. Against this backdrop, the Court looks to whether the Legislature intended that Sec

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