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Lightner v. Cohn

Decided: October 18, 1962.

RALPH LIGHTNER, PETITIONER-RESPONDENT
v.
SAMUEL F. COHN, RESPONDENT-APPELLANT



Price, Sullivan and Lewis. The opinion of the court was delivered by Lewis, J.A.D.

Lewis

Ralph Lightner, the victim of a compensable accident which occurred on March 10, 1954, suffered an injury to his right hand resulting in the amputation of the first three fingers and the distal phalanx of the thumb. During that year the Division of Workmen's Compensation awarded him 100% hand disability plus 5% of total permanent disability for derivative neurosis. There is no dispute as to the findings and determination of the Division at that time.

In 1960, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 34:15-27, Lightner filed a formal petition for review and modification of the prior award, alleging a subsequently developed accident-connected shoulder pathology and increased neurological impairment. At the hearing on this application he testified that his incapacitating condition had worsened since 1954 in that he currently experienced a burning sensation in his hand which traveled through the arm and "around in my shoulders"; he endured resultant pain all the time -- "Nights especially"; it was only possible for him to lie on his left side or on his stomach; his right hand continued to shake and tremble; he was subjected constantly to dizzy feelings and headaches; and he was "all nervous and such."

Petitioner maintained that he had unsuccessfully tried to find work, saying, "When I go, they look at my hand and turn around and laugh. They say, 'Man, you are crazy.'" Specifically, however, his efforts to seek employment were somewhat limited. He applied at a razor blade factory, a box manufacturing company and, on one occasion, he made inquiry of a friend, a street cleaner, as to the possibility of obtaining a job with the city as a "sweeper."

The expert medical evidence reveals divergent opinions and accentuates an area of inexactness and uncertainty in the application of medical science to humanistic problems. There were six physicians produced as witnesses, and their testimony may be epitomized thusly:

-- Dr. Vincent J. Riggs (for petitioner), a neurologist and psychiatrist, examined Lightner prior to the first hearing in 1954 at which time he estimated, in addition to a 100% disabled hand, permanent disability of 15% of total based upon posttraumatic neurosis. On re-examination in 1960 he found that the neuro-psychiatric disability had increased to 25%. Under cross-examination respecting the employability of the patient, he stated:

"Well, I have worked for large companies, examining patients for pre-employment, and I wouldn't accept him. * * * If I were working for Westinghouse, which I did once, and this man came in, I would turn him down."

However, he refused on redirect to express an opinion as to whether petitioner could successfully find work in the competitive labor market, contending that such an inquiry was "away from the psychiatric into the administrative field."

-- Dr. Sidney Keats (for petitioner), an orthopedist, likewise checked petitioner prior to both hearings and found a restriction of motions in the right arm and some flattening of the shoulder girdle, neither of which conditions had been present at the first examination. He was of the opinion that orthopedically there was an additional disability of 7 1/2% of total and he opined, "I believe that this petitioner would find great difficulty in obtaining employment."

-- Dr. Phillip Wilner (for petitioner), an orthopedist, whose single examination was on October 13, 1959, testified that petitioner, following hand surgery, was suffering from atrophic changes of the right shoulder-girdle musculature due to secondary adhesive capsulitis. This, in his opinion, was caused by the disuse of the injured hand and the arm, and constituted 12 1/2% of total disability.

-- Dr. Samuel K. Pollock (for petitioner), a neuro-psychiatrist, made a diagnosis on October 5, 1959 expressed as "traumatic anxiety hysterical reaction with depression." He reported a permanent neurological disability of 25% of partial total but stated that petitioner "probably would be unable to compete ...


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