We like cops here at TTAG. Honest we do. But when so many of them provide such a target rich environment – so to speak – you just gotta take note. Are your state’s taxes going up? Local officials cutting cops, firefighters and teachers? Odds are, the reason is pension and disability liabilities your city and state took on without any earthly idea how to meet them in the long run. New Jersey, one of the nation’s most financially overburdened states, has recently taken steps to compound the fiscal harakiri by lowering the bar for public employees claiming accidental disability benefits. Which brings us to the sorry case of Christopher Onseti…
Onseti’s a New Jersey Transit cop. Five years ago last month, he was at a local range, apparently working on his handgun qualification. And as nj.com tells it, that’s when everything went horribly wrong.
As (Onseti) was preparing to shoot, a burst of wind tore a Q-shaped target from its wooden post. Onesti picked up a staple gun and tried to reattach the target — and what happened next could end up costing state taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Onesti, 27 at the time, accidentally fired a staple into the base of his left ring finger, records show. He put a Band Aid on the wound and successfully completed the tests. But after two operations Onesti says he still can’t do his job, and is now one of a record number of public employees across the state seeking an accidental disability pension for life.
A Q-shaped target? Really?
Anyway, that two-pronged booboo (not pictured above) that Onesti took care of with a Band-Aid and didn’t stop him from finishing his round of qualifying, has cost God-knows-how-much in legal fees and administrative time in the intervening years.
It’s hard to fathom how a stapled finger could permanently keep someone from performing his police officer duties, even if it’s on his dominant hand (and I’m betting this one isn’t). If his finger had been amputated, he’d still be able to walk a beat. Or cruise in his patrol car. Or whatever his particular duties entail.
But why go to all the trouble of wearing a uniform and strapping on a heater every day when you can kick your feet up and live via the rapidly depleting largesse of the New Jersey taxpayer? Just pull an ambulance chaser’s phone number from a late-night cable commercial and you’re in business.
As if the malingering weren’t bad enough, the potential jackpot’s substantial. If awarded the benefits, Onsetti would get two-thirds of his salary – free of state and federal taxes – plus fully paid life insurance until he reaches age 55. That’s twenty-four more years in his case.
In 2010, the Police and Fireman Pension Board denied Onesti’s application, contending the injury resulted from negligence, not from an unexpected risk taken on the job. But an administrative law judge, citing the Supreme Court decisions, recommended that the board reverse its decision.
“How a judge gave an accidental disability pension to a guy who stapled his finger is amazing,” said John Sierchio, chairman of the pension board who has been critical of the ruling. “We should poll kids from kindergartens across the state to see how many have done the same thing.”
Another board member, Vincent Foti, said, “How about the doctor that said he can’t work?”
Their comments came seconds before the board unanimously — and in an unusual move — rejected the judge’s ruling, which Onesti can appeal in state court. He could not be reached for comment.
Nice to see that, amid their growing unfunded liabilities, at least some public officials are taking Nancy Reagan’s advice and learning to just say no. Whether the people of New Jersey can count on the same degree of wisdom from an appellate judge remains to be seen.