On appeal from the Division of Workers' Compensation, Department of Labor.
Before Judges Coburn, Collester and Alley.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Collester, J.A.D.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Appellant George Adams appeals from a final order of the Division of Workers' Compensation dismissing his employee claim petition for failure to file a claim within the two year statutory limitation period of N.J.S.A. 34:15-51. Adams filed his petition on July 25, 1996. The respondent, New York Giants (Giants), filed an answer along with a motion to dismiss the petition as time barred. Thereafter, Adams filed for medical and temporary benefits seeking payment of past medical expenses for hip replacement surgery as well as future expenses for a second hip replacement. An evidentiary hearing was held on both Adams' application and the Giants' motion to dismiss on varying dates between January 21, 1999 and June 21, 2001. On January 29, 2002, the judge of compensation issued an order and written opinion dismissing the claim for lack of jurisdiction due to Adams' failure to file the petition within the time limitation of N.J.S.A. 34:15-51. Adams appeals from that order.
George Adams is a former National Football League running back, who was the number one draft choice of the Giants in 1985. He played for the Giants from 1985 through 1989 and for the New England Patriots (Patriots) until he was released following the first game of the 1991 regular season. The incident giving rise to his claim occurred during training camp with the Giants in August 1986, Adams' second season. During an intrasquad scrimmage Adams took a handoff to run the ball off tackle when a defensive lineman dove at his feet. Adams described the incident as follows:
It was a stand up scrimmage. I ran through the line. I can still see the defensive lineman at full speed, even though it was a half speed drill. He came down the line and I was running. He dove and tripped me up. I was stumbling. I caught myself on one leg. I caught it on the left leg. I caught myself and it just snapped out. I fell down. My whole left side was numb. [Trainer Ron Barnes] and the team doctor [Dr. Russell F. Warren] ran out to me and they said,"George, what's wrong?" And I said,"I can't feel anything."...So they picked me up, they took me back to the sideline. Then the feeling was coming back. The feeling start[ed] coming back after ten to fifteen minutes... I didn't know how severe, but I knew I hurt myself.
Adams was treated for a hip flexor. He was prescribed anti inflammatory medication, underwent electric stimulation therapy and was told to ride a stationary bike. During the remainder of training camp he participated in practice drills despite the pain. He played in the Giants last 1986 pre-season game, but removed himself after a brief time. He explained the circumstances as follows:
I tried to play the last pre-season game against the Jets. And Phil Simms threw me the ball and it went over my head, and I told Coach Parcells that I won't be able to do it.
This incident ended Adams' 1986 season. He was placed on the injured reserve list of the Giants but remained with the team throughout its championship season. During the season he continued under the care of Dr. Russell F. Warren, the Giants' team doctor and an orthopedic surgeon with the New York Hospital for Special Surgery. On November 6, 1986, Dr. Warren reported the following findings and observations:
It was noted on examination at [the time of the injury] he had pain with abduction of his hip and some pain with flexion of his hip. There was no pain behind the hip or posteriorly. On subsequent evaluations he continued to have discomfort in his left hip. X-rays were obtained which initially were non revealing. [Plaintiff's] complaints continued; they seemed to respond to rest with pain quieting down. However, with renewed activity the pain would increase. Bone scan was obtained in August, which showed a diffuse increased activity in the left hip region. Subsequently, a CAT scan demonstrated an evulsion injury in the posterior region of the acetabulum [of] the left hip. No lesion of the femoral head was seen. MRI demonstrated triangular defect in the femoral head. Patient was restricted in his activity. He was placed on anti-inflammatories. MRI was also suggestive of significant synovitis. He was then placed on crutches, as well as Indocin. Repeat MRI's taken in September and beginning of November again showed the triangular defect in the left femoral head. The synovitis reaction appears to have diminished significantly. In early September, the patient had some discomfort in his hip, which was responsive to Indocin. Now on weightbearing. Subsequently, his hip has quieted down. Range of motion has gradually returned to normal. Minimal discomfort with extremes of motion. I have had Dr. Paul Pellicci evaluate George in September, and reviewed the MRI's subsequently with Dr. Schneider and myself. It was noted that there is no pain in the posterior aspect of the acetabulum in September, which was somewhat confusing since it appeared the x-ray showed a[n] evulsion injury in the posterior region of the acetabulum....It was puzzling as to why there was minimal pain in the posterior region of the acetabulum, and most of the pain in the anterior aspect. Overall, it appears that he has sustained a transient subluxation of his hip resulting in the evulsion, within a fraction of his femoral head with some degree of necrosis being present.
George Adams reported to the Giants training camp in 1987 and passed the team physical. He played for the Giants during the 1987 strike-shortened season as well as the full seasons of 1988 and 1989. During those seasons he said his hip did not get any better or any worse. He testified that he functioned at only about seventy-five to eighty percent of his former athletic capacity. Giants trainer Ron Barnes and Dr. Warren continued to check his hip throughout the time he remained with the Giants. Adams said that Dr. Warren told him that his hip condition would stay the same.
After the 1989 season, George Adams' contract with the Giants expired, making him a Plan B free agent. Shortly before training camp in the summer of 1990, he signed with the Patriots. After being examined by their medical staff and reviewing Dr. Warren's report, the Patriots' management was sufficiently concerned about the condition of Adams' left hip to require him to sign a waiver, releasing the Patriots from liability in the event of further injury to the hip. After playing the full 1990 season with the Patriots, Adams was released after the first regular season game in 1991. In his words it was for"lack of ability to get the job done. I was not 100 percent."
Following his release by the Patriots, Adams retired from professional football. He moved to Texas because his"hip does better in warm weather." After an unsuccessful attempt to launch his own trucking and delivery business, he took a job with Bell Helicopter in 1993 as an employee assistance representative. His duties included performing personal counseling services relating to drug ...