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Benson v. Coca Cola Co.

Decided: July 11, 1972.


Conford, Matthews, and Fritz.

Per Curiam

The events comprising the factual environment of this workmen's compensation litigation are competently set forth in the opinion of the County Court, and need no further elucidation here. 115 N.J. Super. 585 (Cty. Ct. 1971).

As appears from the opinion below, the injured workman in this case reported to the employer's clinic with substantial complaints. After an examination, the employer's physician offered diathermy, heat treatment, muscle relaxants, and pain relievers. The employee

Petitioner later, and without authorization from the employer, sought and obtained medical treatment for which he now seeks reimbursement. The statute involved is N.J.S.A. 34:15-15.

The employer's suggestion on this appeal is that the offering of treatment was sufficient compliance with the statute that the limitation of the first paragraph of that statute should apply, the petitioner not having received authorization for other treatment from the employer or the Division of Workmen's Compensation. Implicit, if not express, in this argument is the suggestion that under such circumstances a petition for further medical treatment must be filed with the Division of Workmen's Compensation and a determination had thereon if the employer's liability therefor is not to be limited to the $50 for physicians' or surgeons' services and $50 for hospital services or appliances as set

forth in the first paragraph of the statute. Petitioner disputes this proposition, and while he acknowledges that under most circumstances some demand or request is necessary, claims that under the circumstances here involved the employer is obligated to reimburse him for his medical expenses. He urges additionally that the nature of the treatment required by the statute to be provided (and therefore the adequacy of the treatment offered), together with its reasonable necessity and its relationship from a causality standpoint to the employment, may properly be determined from a "hindsight" or after-the-fact appraisal of the medical facts as they existed at the time.

This quarrel presents two important questions of law, apparently not heretofore determined by an appellate court in New Jersey. We are asked to decide (a) whether N.J.S.A. 34:15-15 requires an injured employee who has been offered some treatment by an employer to file a petition with the Division of Workmen's Compensation if he is to avoid a limitation of the employer's liability for treatment; and if not, (b) whether so-called "hindsight" review may be utilized to determine the nature of proper treatment and to measure the reasonable necessity for treatment and its relationship to the employment, conditioned upon there having been an appropriate demand and refusal. The second question necessitates some exploration of that which constitutes an appropriate demand or request for medical treatment.

We are satisfied that the first of these questions must be answered in the negative. It appears to us that the intent of the legislature in providing mechanics for the filing of a petition for medical services as set forth in the first paragraph of the cited statute did not extend beyond sanctioning a determination of responsibility for medical services prior to a determination of disability and detailing a manner in which this might be done. Otherwise, the additional provision of the second paragraph of the statute and the limitation therein, relating to the necessity for a request by the employee before an employer is responsible for reimbursement

of the employee's expenditures, would be meaningless. A construction that will render any part of the statute inoperative, superfluous or meaningless is to be avoided. State v. Sperry & Hutchinson Co. , 23 N.J. 38, 46 (1956). Additionally, it is now beyond cavil that the beneficent social purposes of workmen's compensation legislation are to be reflected by the benefits of liberal construction in the petitioner's favor. Close v. Kordulak , 44 N.J. 589, 604 (1965). In this latter respect, we are certain that the legislature did not intend, in the nonemergent situation where immediate treatment is nonetheless indicated, to relegate the workman to the slow grinding mills of the judicial process in the Division of Workmen's Compensation. (Compare the exceptions to certain statutory requirements with respect to the emergent and unusual situation, set forth in the second paragraph of the statute.) Assurances by the employer here in its brief that such matters are expedited do not alter our view as to that which the legislature intended by the statute.

The legislation clearly provides that upon refusal or neglect of the employer to provide adequate and proper medical treatment -- "as shall be necessary to cure and relieve * * * and to restore" -- the employee may either file a claim petition or, after a request to the employer, seek his own treatment at the employer's expense. The filing of a claim petition is not a sine qua non. Cf. Quiles v. N.J. Metals Co. , 37 N.J. 91, 103 (1962).

An appropriate demand or request for treatment is required by the statute and this for the obvious reason that the employer should not be burdened with paying for treatment by others without having a fair opportunity to provide adequate treatment in the first instance. It is clear that if there is no demand, there is no liability. This requirement of a demand or request admits of one exception: where such a request would be futile, it is unnecessary that the ...

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