On appeal from the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Division of Workers' Compensation, Claim Petition No. 2002-11679.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Sapp-Peterson and Messano.
Respondent, Community Medical Center, appeals from the January 8, 2007 order of the judge of the workers' compensation court approving the settlement of petitioner Valerie Cardiello's workers' compensation claim, and from the April 4, 2007 order denying respondent's motion to vacate the award. Respondent contends the judge should not have entered the order approving the settlement because (1) it never signed the agreement as it is required to do pursuant to N.J.S.A. 34:15-50; (2) even if there was a valid agreement, it was reached based upon petitioner's misrepresentation about her ability to work; (3) had respondent been aware that, contrary to petitioner's November 6, 2006 testimony, she had in fact been working, such information would have been relevant to the settlement negotiations; and (4) petitioner's misrepresentation as to her working status rose to the level of fraud, providing yet another reason why the court should not have approved the settlement, but should have instead granted respondent's request for a one- cycle adjournment to conduct further investigation. We agree that the court erred in approving the settlement without respondent's written consent and also that the judge abused his discretion in denying the one-cycle adjournment to further investigate whether petitioner deliberately misrepresented her working status during the November 6, 2006 hearing.
On April 9, 2002, petitioner, Valerie Cardiello, filed Claim Petition No. 2002-11679 with the Division of Workers' Compensation (Division) alleging that she sustained an injury to her lower back on December 30, 2001, while working for respondent. Respondent filed an answer to the claim petition on May 28, 2002, conceding that petitioner's injury was compensable and noting that it had provided full benefits to petitioner. Respondent denied that petitioner required further medical treatment or temporary disability benefits.
Thereafter, on July 15, 2002, petitioner filed an amended claim petition alleging that her neck and shoulder were also injured as a result of the December 30, 2001 accident. In turn, respondent filed an answer to the amended claim petition denying that the alleged injuries to petitioner's neck and shoulder were work-related. Petitioner also filed a verified petition alleging that she was entitled to benefits under the Second Injury Fund*fn2 on the basis that she was rendered totally and permanently disabled by the work-related accident and her pre-existing conditions.
Trial commenced on November 6, 2006. Respondent stipulated that petitioner did suffer a work-related accident on December 30, 2001. The court then heard the testimony of petitioner. During her direct examination, petitioner testified about her employment history:
Q: You began working in 1977 as an LPN?
Q: And you worked various places as an LPN until your last day of employment, January 22nd, 2002?
Q: Have you worked anywhere ...