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Illions v. Sayreville Board of Education

April 14, 2008

PHYLLIS ILLIONS, PETITIONER-RESPONDENT,
v.
SAYREVILLE BOARD OF EDUCATION, RESPONDENT-APPELLANT.



On appeal from the Department of Labor, Division of Workers' Compensation, Docket No. 2005-37863.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Argued January 24, 2008

Before Judges Parker and Coleman.

Respondent Sayreville Board of Education appeals from an order entered in the court of workers' compensation on January 11, 2007 awarding petitioner temporary disability and medical care benefits as directed by the expert physician. Petitioner was also awarded $460 in fees. We affirm.

Petitioner's claim arose when she fell on Board of Education property on December 8, 2005. Prior to the accident, petitioner had arthroscopic surgeries performed on both knees. Just prior to the fall, on November 17, 2005, petitioner had an MRI of her left knee, which indicated that she had a medial meniscal tear and joint effusion. Petitioner was treated by Michael Cunningham, M.D., who had performed the arthroscopic surgery.

On December 12, 2005, she saw Steven Lisser, M.D., and reported severe pain in her left knee. Dr. Lisser prescribed physical therapy for petitioner's knee, neck and back. On December 19, 2005, petitioner returned to Dr. Lisser who then indicated that she had sprains and strains in her neck, lower back and both knees.

On January 5, 2006, an MRI of the left knee showed a tear in the body and posterior horns of the medial meniscus considered to be degenerative in etiology; the lateral meniscus and ligaments were intact, but there were mild to moderate degenerative changes of the patellofemoral joint with more permanent change involving the medial aspect of the patellofemoral; mild degenerative changes in the medial compartment; and small joint effusion.

Petitioner continued treatment and physical therapy after the fall, but experienced on-going discomfort. On May 1, 2006, she had a second arthroscopic surgery on her left knee. The operative report indicated, among other things, that there was a complex tearing of the posterior third into the posterior horn of the medial meniscus.

The issues before the court of compensation were (1) whether petitioner's fall on December 8, 2005 caused a worsening of her condition and the need for the second arthroscopic surgery; and (2) whether petitioner required further treatment for her back, neck and shoulders.

After hearing the testimony, the workers' compensation court found that petitioner was "a very credible witness" and "was very credible with respect to her complaints as to her pre-existing knee problems." The court reviewed the medical testimony, including the conflicting testimony as to whether the tear in the meniscus was aggravated by the December 8, 2005 fall, and accepted the testimony of Dr. Berkowitz who concluded that petitioner "had a pre-existing small tear in her left knee and that that small tear became a large tear as a result of her work-related accident." The court of compensation specifically noted that there were MRIs shortly before and after the December 8 fall that supported petitioner's claim. Accordingly, the compensation court found "aggravation of that tear and that the widening and increasing was not degenerative in nature, and that Dr. Lisser was wrong in his opinion with respect to his analysis of this [p]petitioner's injuries," and awarded petitioner medical care and temporary disability benefits.

In this appeal, respondent argues that (1) the compensation court's findings of fact are contrary to the evidence and should be reversed; and (2) petitioner requires no additional treatment after the May 1, 2006 surgery and the January 11, 2007 order is moot.

Our scope of review of a workers' compensation award "is limited to a determination of whether the findings and conclusions of the [court] of compensation could reasonably have been reached on sufficient credible evidence in the record, considering the proofs as a whole, giving due regard to [its] expertise in the field of workers' compensation and [its] opportunity of seeing the witnesses and evaluating their credibility." Perez v. Capitol Ornamental, 288 N.J. Super. 359, 367 (App. Div. 1996); accord Close v. Kordulak Bros. Inc., 44 N.J. 589, 599 (1965). The factual findings and legal conclusions of the workers' compensation court shall not be disturbed unless they are "'manifestly unsupported by or inconsistent with competent, relevant and reasonably credible evidence as to offend the interests of justice.'" Perez v. Monmouth Cable Vision, 278 N.J. Super. 275, 282 (App. Div. 1994), certif. denied, 140 N.J. 277 (1995) (quoting Rova Farms Resort v. Investors Ins. Co., 65 N.J. 474, 484 (1974)).

A petitioner has the burden of establishing that there is a "'causal connection between the employment and the injury.'" Verge v. County of Morris, 272 N.J. Super. 118, 124 (App. Div. 1994) (quoting Coleman v. Cycle Transformer Corp., 105 N.J. 285, 290 (1986)). Petitioner must establish this causal link by the "preponderance of the evidence." Laffey v. ...


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