January 6, 2009
ARTHUR SCOTT, PETITIONER-RESPONDENT,
AFD T/A AMALFE BROTHERS TIRE SERVICE, RESPONDENT-APPELLANT.
On appeal from the Division of Workers' Compensation, Department of Labor, Claim Petition No. 2000-34027.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted December 15, 2008
Before Judges R. B. Coleman and Simonelli.
Appellant AFD t/a Amalfe Brothers Tire Service (AFD) appeals from the February 26, 2008 workers' compensation judgment, finding that petitioner Arthur Scott suffered a compensable injury under the Workers' Compensation Act, N.J.S.A. 34:15-1 to-128, while employed by AFD. AFD contends that the judge's decision was not supported by sufficient or substantial credible evidence. We reject this contention and affirm.
Scott was employed by AFD as an auto mechanic from 1983 to August 2004. According to Scott, on or about May 1, 2000, he was installing calipers on the front brakes of a company vehicle. After completing the installation, he opened screws on the brake system to bleed the brake fluid. While doing so, a co-worker accidentally depressed the brake pedal causing brake fluid to squirt into Scott's left eye. The eye began to burn and Scott went to the bathroom to wash out the fluid. He reported the incident to his manager, "Robert."
Scott finished working and went home. On the way, he stopped at a drug store and purchased eye wash, which he later used to wash out his left eye. His vision in the eye became blurry and he saw flashes. He did not immediately seek medical treatment because he thought the problem would resolve itself. He returned to work the next day and complained of problems with the eye. He began to realize the severity of the situation when he was road-testing a vehicle and could not read, with his left eye, the license plate of the car in front of him.
On May 3, 2000, Scott saw Dr. James Franklin about an unrelated elbow injury and a persistent cough. Scott claims that he told the doctor that he got hit in his left eye with brake fluid. He also claims that the doctor examined the eye and referred him to an eye doctor for treatment. The doctor's office notes do not reference the eye injury or the referral. However, Scott's medical records, admitted by stipulation into evidence, confirm that Dr. Franklin referred Scott to Dr. Joel Eichler, an eye surgeon.
Scott saw Dr. Eichler on May 10, 2000. The vision in Scott's left eye was still blurry and was getting dimmer. He still saw flashes and had intermittent pain. Although Scott claimed that he advised Dr. Eichler that brake fluid hit the eye, the doctor's office notes indicate that Scott reported that he hit the eye with a hammer two days before the office visit. However, the notes also indicate that Scott reported dimmer vision in the eye for three to four days before the office visit, floaters for one month and flashes for two to three months.
Dr. Eichler diagnosed Scott as having an inferior retinal detachment in his left eye secondary to a giant retinal tear. Despite surgical intervention, the vision in the eye is 20/200 without any hope for improvement. Scott testified that his vision in the eye is so poor that he cannot recognize a person eight to nine feet away, and he only sees light through the eye.
He also testified about the deleterious effect this condition has on his daily life.
AFD did not present any witnesses. The parties stipulated that Scott had a 100% visual disability in his left eye. Additionally, Scott's psychiatrist diagnosed him as having post-traumatic stress disorder, resulting in an estimated 40% partial permanent psychiatric disability.
AFD's ophthalmologist estimated a 10% partial total permanent disability for other anatomical and structural changes not directly related to Scott's diminished vision. AFD's psychiatrist assessed a permanent neuropsychiatric disability at no more than 1% of partial total for residual symptoms. The doctor also found no evidence of any permanent neurologic disability.
The judge found Scott's testimony credible and concluded that the injury occurred as Scott had testified. The judge also concluded that Scott had a 63.33% partial total permanent disability consisting of 100% loss of vision in his left eye, 10% psychiatric/depression and limitation of mobility due to the loss of vision, and 20% partial total for structural defects of the eye. The judge awarded Scott $143,640, plus $6500 for medical bills and $17,236 for attorney's fees.
In the workers' compensation setting, our scope of review is limited to "'whether the findings made could reasonably have been reached on sufficient credible evidence present in the record, considering the proofs as a whole, with due regard to the opportunity of the one who heard the witnesses to judge of their credibility.'" Linquist v. Jersey City Fire Dep't., 175 N.J. 244, 262 (2003) (quoting Close v. Kordulak Bros., 44 N.J. 589, 599 (1965)); Brock v. Public Serv. Elec. & Gas Co., 149 N.J. 378, 383 (1997). We may not substitute our own fact-finding for that of the judge of compensation. Lombardo v. Revlon, Inc., 328 N.J. Super. 484, 488 (App. Div. 2000). We must defer to the factual findings and legal determination made by the judge of compensation "unless they are'manifestly unsupported by or inconsistent with competent relevant and reasonably credible evidence as to offend the interests of justice.'" Linquist, supra, 175 N.J. at 262. (quoting Perez v. Monmouth Cable Vision, 278 N.J. Super. 275, 282 (App. Div. 1994), certif. denied, 140 N.J. 277 (1995)); Rova Farms Resort v. Investors Ins. Co., 65 N.J. 474, 484 (1974).
Mindful of our limited scope of review, we are satisfied that the judge's factual and credibility findings are supported by sufficient credible evidence. We defer to the judge's expertise and to his determination that Scott suffered a compensable injury while employed by AFD.
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