June 10, 2008
MELVIN WOOD, PETITIONER-APPELLANT,
GENERAL MOTORS AND THE SECOND INJURY FUND, RESPONDENTS-RESPONDENTS.
On appeal from the New Jersey Department of Labor, Division of Workers' Compensation, Claim Petition Nos. 97-019088; 97-019402; 98-21597; 00-013217; 00-013251; 01-035306.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Argued May 7, 2008
Before Judges Lihotz and King.
Petitioner Melvin Wood filed six workers' compensation claim petitions seeking: to reopen and modify prior awards (petition nos. 97-019088, 97-019402 and 98-21597) and to present initial claims resulting from work related injuries (petition nos. 00-013251 (psychiatric impairment), 00-013217 (hernia), and 01-035306 (left foot)). Additionally, Wood asserted his last injury, which resulted when a forklift was driven over his left foot, combined with the preceding injuries and conditions causing permanent and total disability. Consequently, Wood sought benefits from the Second Injury Fund (SIF), N.J.S.A. 34:15-94 to -95.5.
Wood appeals from three orders entered by the Division of Workers' Compensation (Division) on June 29, 2007, awarding partial total disability for his injured left foot and a hernia, denying reopener and dismissing the other claims, including his claim for total disability, and denying eligibility for SIF benefits.
Wood argues he is "totally and permanently disabled based upon the nature and extent of [his] pulmonary, psychiatric, neurologic[al] and orthopedic injuries." The focus of Wood's argument on appeal is the Division's findings are against the weight of the evidence presented.
In our review, we determine "whether the findings of the judge of compensation could reasonably have been reached on sufficient credible evidence present in the whole record, after giving due weight to his expertise in the field and his opportunity of hearing and seeing the witnesses." De Angelo v. Alsan Masons, Inc., 122 N.J. Super. 88, 89-90 (App. Div.), aff'd o.b., 62 N.J. 581 (1973); Jackson v. Concord Co., 54 N.J. 113, 117-18 (1969); Close v. Kordulak Bros., 44 N.J. 589, 599 (1965). Under such circumstances, the determination of the judge of compensation, when reviewed on appeal, is equivalent to a trial by a judge without a jury. Abeles v. Adams Eng'g Co., 35 N.J. 411, 423-24 (1961).
Our review of the record persuades us that the factual findings by the compensation judge in respect of Wood's claims was based on sufficient credible evidence, including the determination of the credibility of Wood's testimony and that of the expert witnesses. Sheffield v. Schering Plough Corp., 146 N.J. 442, 461 (1996); see also Paul v. Baltimore Upholstering Co., 66 N.J. 111, 121 (1974) (noting that it is within compensation judge's province to accept or reject opinions of expert physicians concerning causation). We have no basis to disturb them. We affirm substantially for the reasons expressed by Judge Goldman in his ten-page written decision.
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