On appeal from the New Jersey Department of Labor, Division of Workers' Compensation, Claim Petition No. 2005-19721.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted October 24, 2007
Before Judges Wefing and R. B. Coleman.
Respondent Bridgewater Township Police Department (BTPD) appeals a September 12, 2006 order of modification directing BTPD to coordinate the payment of temporary disability benefits to petitioner Nicole Springer (Springer). Because we find the record is not adequate for a proper review, we reverse and remand for further development of the record.
On June 9, 2004, Springer, an officer with the Bridgewater Police Department, received a call instructing her and Police Officer Jason Daunton to investigate a possible fuel spill at the corner of Route 28 and Vanderveer Road in Bridgewater. When the officers arrived at the scene, they discovered an oily substance on the roadway spanning seventy-five feet. A Public Works employee determined that the substance on the roadway was a petroleum-based cleaner, Klean Strip Naphtha, exposure to which may cause dizziness, lightheadedness and nausea. The officers closed off the roadway and manually directed traffic.
After approximately fifteen minutes, both officers began to feel ill. Within an hour, Officer Daunton was transported to the hospital for medical treatment. Springer declined medical treatment at that time, hoping her condition would improve; however, later that day, she was taken to the hospital as her condition worsened. The hospital released Springer in the afternoon and she returned to the BTPD to perform light duty. Upon discharge, the hospital told her to contact QualCare, BTPD's Workers' Compensation medical case manager.
Throughout the remainder of 2004 and during 2005, Springer sought treatment and evaluations from numerous doctors in connection with symptoms that she believed were caused by her inhalation of the Naphtha. On June 29, 2005, Springer filed a claim petition against BTPD with the New Jersey Department of Labor, Division of Workers' Compensation. Thereafter, she filed a motion for temporary and medical disability benefits. In a consent order dated March 28, 2006, the parties agreed that Springer would be examined by BTPD's medical expert and that BTPD would pay Springer a voluntary tender of five percent partial total disability within fourteen days of the entry of the order.
After she received the medical expert's report, Springer filed a motion for enforcement of the March 28, 2006 consent order. On April 19, 2006, after hearing oral argument, the judge of compensation ordered that Springer: (1) was entitled to temporary disability benefits in the amount of $650 per week; (2) receive the benefits until medically discharged; and (3) continue treatment with specific providers. The judge also ordered that BTPD pay Springer the five percent voluntary tender within fourteen days. BTPD moved to modify that order. The motion was heard on August 15, 2006, after which the judge of compensation ordered BTPD to coordinate the payment of the five percent voluntary tender with the cessation of the payment of temporary disability benefits. BTPD then filed this appeal, raising the following points for our consideration:
POINT I: WHETHER THE JUDGE OF COMPENSATION IMPROPERLY AWARDED BENEFITS, IN THE ABSENCE OF ANY SWORN TESTIMONY OR OTHER SUFFICIENT EVIDENTIAL BASIS, CONSIDERING THE PROOFS AS A WHOLE.
POINT II: WHETHER THE JUDGE OF COMPENSATION WAS CLEARLY WRONG IN FINDING CAUSAL CONNECTION, BETWEEN THE PETITIONER'S EMPLOYMENT AND HER NEUROPSYCHIATRIC CONDITION.
POINT III: WHETHER THE DECISION BELOW WAS MADE WITHOUT THE SUPPORT OF A REASONED EXPLANATION BASED ON SPECIFIC FINDINGS OF FACT.
As a threshold matter, we note that currently there is a split in authority as to whether an award of temporary benefits qualifies as a final judgment. In Anderson v. Well-Built Homes of Cent. Jersey, Inc., 69 N.J. Super. 246, 254 (App. Div. 1961), we stated that "[t]he award of temporary disability benefits during the pendency of [a] workmen's compensation proceeding was not appealable as of right prior to a final judgment disposing of all issues." However, more recent decisions suggest finality. For example, in Hodgdon v. Project Packaging, Inc., 214 N.J. Super. 352, 358-60 (App. Div. 1986), certif. denied, 107 N.J. 109 (1987), we opined that there is no need to certify an order of temporary disability benefits as final in order for it to be appealed. Also, in Della Rosa v. Van-Rad Contracting Co., Inc., we followed Hodgdon, supra, and expressed that:
An award for temporary medical and disability benefits shares many of the characteristics of a final judgment. It may be docketed in Superior Court and executed upon. It is presently payable in the absence of a stay. A petitioner who receives such an award of temporary benefits receives the equivalent of a final money judgment, ...