On appeal from the Division of Workers' Compensation.
Halpern, Larner and King. The opinion of the court was delivered by King, J.A.D.
This appeal from the Division of Workers' Compensation involves the construction of N.J.S.A. 34:15-12(c)(20) which states:
The loss of * * * both eyes * * * as the result of any one accident, shall constitute total and permanent disability * * *.
On April 15, 1974 petitioner was seriously injured in an industrial accident when a boiler exploded. He suffered hearing damage and orthopedic, neurological and psychiatric injury, in addition to his visual difficulties.
About two months before the accident petitioner's eyes were examined. He had uncorrected bilateral vision of 20/400, corrected to 20/20 in each eye with glasses. His extraocular movements were full and intact, he had no double vision and no other pathology, aside from his classification as "industrially blind."
At the time of trial in 1976 respondent agreed that petitioner had suffered a total disability of the right eye, and voluntarily paid benefits representing a 100% loss of that organ. Respondent also paid permanent partial disability benefits of 10%. Concededly, petitioner suffered no injury to his left eye. The issue at trial was the extent of permanent total disability and the application of N.J.S.A. 34:15-12(c)(20) to this particular claim.
The judge of compensation commenced his decision with the statement that petitioner "from a technical standpoint was one hundred percent totally and permanently disabled as the result of the loss of both eyes pursuant to N.J.S.A. 34:15-12(c)(20)" before the accident because of his totally correctable 20/400 vision bilaterally. The judge then rejected petitioner's theory of total and permanent disability from all causes.
The judge concluded, however, that the combination of the statutory loss of the right eye in the compensable accident, coupled with the pre-existing, though totally correctable, industrial blindness of the left eye, mandated a finding of total and permanent disability under N.J.S.A. 34:15-12(c)(20). He said:
The loss of two eyes renders one totally and permanently disabled. In the instant matter, the petitioner has suffered the loss of two eyes, one from the industrial accident under consideration and the other from unrelated pre-existing causes. I must, therefore, conclude that the petitioner is totally and permanently disabled within the meaning and purview of our statute. I must further conclude that this total and permanent disability consists of the combination of the effects of his compensable accident superimposed upon the prior non-compensable, non-deteriorating, non-aggravated total statutory loss of vision in the left eye.
Additionally, the judge found total permanent disability from all causes to be 75%, the loss of vision accounting for 50% of this figure.
Some additional factual background is helpful in appreciating the problem presented. Petitioner ...