On appeal from New Jersey Department of Labor, Division of Workers' Compensation, Claim Petition No. 2001-17050.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Parker, R. B. Coleman and Lyons.
Petitioner Josephine Lucciola appeals from an order for total disability entered on October 18, 2006, by a workers' compensation judge. Because we find that the judge's findings were reasonably reached on the basis of sufficient credible evidence in the record, after giving due regard to the Division of Workers' Compensation's expertise, we affirm.
The following factual and procedural history is relevant to our consideration of the issues raised on appeal. On April 8, 2000, petitioner was employed by The Home Depot (Home Depot) in the paint department. On that date, she was injured when deck stain splashed into both of her eyes. Immediately following the incident, petitioner was taken for medical treatment and was discharged with instructions to follow-up with her own doctor.
Petitioner remained employed by Home Depot until December 15, 2000. Thereafter, she worked intermittently with various employers, but was unable to continue in any positions due to her eye injuries. As a result of the accident, petitioner was diagnosed with chronic dry eye syndrome. Because of her condition, she has received frequent eye moisturizers, punctal plugs, and protective eyewear. Her treating physician, Dr. Wisda, has opined that petitioner will need continued medical treatment for the rest of her life and that she is permanently disabled due to the injury.
On October 10, 2006, the compensation judge found that petitioner suffered from a compensable accident while employed by Home Depot. The compensation judge found that petitioner suffered from the residuals of "bilateral chronic conjunctivitis with scarring, bilateral mild keratitis and bilateral dry eye syndrome with punctal plug insertion." The judge concluded that this was a permanent total disability based on petitioner's eye condition. He then found that petitioner was totally and permanently disabled as of November 11, 2004.
The compensation judge decided that petitioner was entitled to one hundred weeks of temporary disability benefits at the rate of $308.55. He calculated the credit entitled to Home Depot to be $11,883.66, with a balance due petitioner of $18,971.34, with respect to her temporary disability. The compensation judge went on to find petitioner was entitled to 450 weeks of permanent disability at $308.55, for a total due on that account of $138,847.50. Petitioner's disability rate was calculated pursuant to the statute, based on wage reports showing that petitioner's average wage was $440.79 a week for the twenty-six week period prior to her injury. The order also provided that all medical bills, which were authorized, are to be paid by Home Depot. Additionally, the compensation judge found that because petitioner was awarded Social Security disability benefits, petitioner may need to reimburse Home Depot for any workers' compensation benefits paid to petitioner in excess of the statutory off-set rate during the time period petitioner has received Social Security disability benefits. The compensation judge, therefore, ordered petitioner to cooperate with Home Depot in executing the necessary documents so that the appropriate information on potential reimbursement could be received and the amount resolved.
By letter dated October 26, 2006, the compensation judge advised petitioner that, should she fail to cooperate in gathering the information necessary to determine this Social Security disability off-set information, he was authorizing Home Depot and its carrier to withhold payments of disability until that cooperation or information is supplied.
The disability order also provides that Home Depot is to furnish petitioner such medical attention as her condition may require. In conjunction with that order, Home Depot authorized Dr. Wisda, the Wills Eye Hospital, including Dr. Rapuano, and Drs. Hart and Kornfeld to be designated treating physicians.
The compensation judge noted that the 450 week period of permanent disability would expire on June 27, 2013, and that the benefits thereafter would continue in accordance with N.J.S.A. 34:15-12(b). Petitioner was referred to the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services, and, lastly, Home Depot was authorized to file a petition to join the Second Injury Fund following the expiration of petitioner's right to appeal. Following the entry of this order, petitioner timely filed this appeal.
On appeal, petitioner sets forth more than thirteen points for us to consider. Some of the points are directed at the substantive provisions of the order, while others relate to allegations of procedural errors or misconduct by the court or counsel for Home Depot.
Initially, we note the standard of appellate review of a workers' compensation judge's determination "is equivalent to that used for review of any non-jury case, which requires the reviewing court to determine whether the findings reasonably could have been reached on the basis of sufficient credible evidence in the record, with due regard to ...