On appeal from the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Division of Workers' Compensation, Claim Petition No. 2006-12618.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Axelrad and Lisa.
This is a workers' compensation case. Appellant, Quality First Contracting, Inc. (Quality First) was the employer of Edward Thompson, Jr. when Thompson suffered a work-related injury to his right wrist on October 31, 2005. The injury was surgically repaired on January 13, 2006. On March 19, 2006, Thompson fell down a flight of stairs at home, fracturing his right thumb and a bone in his right wrist. Thompson subsequently became employed as a plumber's assistant for Plumbrite Plumbing & Heating, Inc. (Plumbrite). During his employment with Plumbrite, Thompson was not involved in any accidents.
As a result of persistent numbness, weakness, and related symptoms in his right wrist and elbow, further medical evaluations revealed that Thompson suffered from right-sided cubital tunnel syndrome and ulnar neuropathy. It was determined that surgical intervention to the right ulnar nerve subluxation in the form of an ulnar nerve transposition was required to correct this condition.
Quality First moved to implead Plumbrite, alleging that Thompson's subsequent work history with Plumbrite might have been the cause of his ongoing medial problem. The motion was granted.
On July 27, 2010, Thompson filed a motion to authorize surgical intervention and to compel Quality First to pay the costs. The matter came on for hearing on October 18, 2010. Over the objection of Quality First, the judge determined that a plenary hearing was not warranted. After hearing the arguments of all counsel, the judge rendered her decision based upon her review and analysis of the medical reports that the parties had filed. She observed that it was undisputed that the surgery was necessary, thus leaving causation as the only issue in dispute. Based upon the medical reports, the judge was persuaded that the need for surgery was occasioned by the compensable accident of October 31, 2005. She therefore entered an order authorizing the surgery and directing Quality First to pay the costs.
On appeal, Quality First argues that the judge erred by not conducting a plenary hearing, misapplied the provisions of N.J.A.C. 12:235-3.2 and 3.2(h), and improperly relied on the net opinion contained in one of the medical reports. We reject these arguments and affirm.
Thompson is a manual laborer. His initial compensable injury occurred while he was pulling a wheelbarrow off of a truck. He lost control of the wheelbarrow, forcing his right wrist into a contorted position. His treating physician, Dr. Franklin Chen, rendered a diagnosis of right wrist ulnar carpal pain, and inflammation and tear of the triangular fibrocartilage complex (TFCC). After a course of conservative treatment was unsuccessful, Dr. Chen surgically repaired the TFCC on January 13, 2006. Postoperatively, Dr. Chen applied a long-arm cast. Because of numbness in Thompson's fingers, Dr. Chen replaced the long-arm cast with a short-arm cast.
Subsequently, as we have stated, defendant fell in his home on March 19, 2006, fracturing his right thumb and a bone in his right wrist. Dr. Chen also treated him for those injuries.
At some point, Thompson's employment at Quality First ended. For a time, he apparently worked as a parts delivery person at a car dealership. In approximately the spring of 2009, Thompson became employed with Plumbrite as a plumber's assistant.
The record before the judge of compensation was voluminous. It contained numerous medical reports and records. The transcript of the October 18, 2010 hearing makes clear that the judge was thoroughly familiar with the record and the relevant medical details underlying the disputed causation issue. For our purposes, we set forth only a brief summary of what was reported by the various doctors who evaluated and treated Thompson.
Dr. Chen opined that there was no causal relationship between Thompson's cubital tunnel syndrome and the compensable accident. He denied that the long-arm cast was the likely source of the problem. He commented generally that Thompson's repetitive ...