On appeal from a Final Determination of the Board of Trustees, Public Employees' Retirement System, PERS #2-10-230609.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Yannotti, Espinosa and Skillman.
Mark Geisler (Geisler) appeals from a final determination of the Board of Trustees (Board), Public Employees' Retirement System (PERS), which denied his application for accidental disability retirement benefits pursuant to N.J.S.A. 43:15A-43. We affirm.
Geisler has been employed by the New Jersey Turnpike Authority (Authority) since 1977 in various maintenance jobs in different divisions within the Authority. As a maintenance worker, Geisler's duties included operating heavy equipment such as bulldozers, backhoes, tractor-trailers and front-end loaders.
On September 19, 2002, Geisler was directed to excavate a trench for the installation of computer cable lines in a building in Clifton. As part of this task, Geisler was required to break up pieces of concrete using a seventy-five pound jackhammer. The jackhammer became lodged in the concrete, and Geisler attempted to extricate the machine from the concrete by pulling and twisting the machine. As he was doing so, Geisler heard what he described as a loud "pop" in the area of his right leg and hip.
At around the same time, the jackhammer came loose, and Geisler was propelled backwards about two feet. The jackhammer landed on his leg. Geisler said that he immediately felt sharp pain in his right hip and the inside of his groin, as well as a dull pain in his lower back. Despite the pain, Geisler continued working.
Geisler stated that the following day, the pain was intense. He reported the injury to his supervisor, and completed an injury report in which he identified his affected body parts as the lower back, right leg and groin-to-knee area. The Authority's doctor prescribed medication but, according to Geisler, it did not lessen the pain. Geisler was referred to an orthopedic specialist for further evaluation.
On October 31, 2002, an MRI was taken of Geisler's lumbar spine. The report of the MRI indicated that Geisler had "[d]egenerative spondylosis" of the lower thoracic spine and lumbar spine with mild annulus bulging at the L4-L5 level of the spine, and "considerable degenerative facet joint disease [at] L4-5 and L5-S1." In November 2002, Geisler resumed full work duty.
Geisler was referred to Dr. Mark Hartzband (Dr. Hartzband). He first examined Geisler on July 17, 2003. Dr. Hartzband's treatment notes indicate that Geisler had presented with a history of right hip pain, dating back to the injury sustained on September 19, 2002. Dr. Hartzband noted that Geisler's hip pain was associated with stiffness and a limp, and he could not walk more than three blocks without having to stop due to the pain. X-rays confirmed advanced osteoarthritis of the right hip bone. Dr. Hartzband recommended that Geisler undergo a hip arthroplasty.
Geisler elected not to have the procedure performed at that time, and did not seek further medical treatment until October 2004, when he returned to see Dr. Hartzband complaining of hip pain. The doctor again recommended hip replacement surgery; however, Geisler did not follow up on that recommendation until August 2005, when he returned to Dr. Hartzband. The procedure was scheduled for February 2006.
In October 2005, Geisler saw Dr. Hartzband's partner, Dr. Harlan Levine (Dr. Levine). He complained of increased discomfort. Dr. Levine found that Geisler had a severely restricted range of motion in his hip, and x-rays indicated that the femoral head had lost its spherical shape. Geisler elected to have the surgery earlier, and on November 18, 2005, Dr. Hartzband performed a total right hip arthoplasty on him.
The doctor thereafter found that Geisler had recovered from the procedure and cleared him for a return to full work duty on April 17, 2006. However, on October 31, 2007, Geisler returned to see Dr. Levine and reported discomfort across his lower back, buttocks and posterior ...