On appeal from the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Division of Workers' Compensation, C. P. No. 2008-31061.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Argued January 23, 2012 -
Before Judges Grall and Skillman.
This is an appeal from the dismissal of a petition for workers' compensation benefits on the ground the petition was filed beyond the two-year period allowed by N.J.S.A. 34:15-51.
On July 23, 2004, petitioner, who was employed as a social worker by respondent Princeton Health Care, suffered a serious head injury as a result of hitting her head on her car door while bending down to retrieve her security badge. There is no dispute concerning the compensability under the Workers' Compensation Act, N.J.S.A. 34:15-1 to -128, of this accident, which occurred on Princeton Health Care's premises.
Petitioner was hospitalized for eight days during which she received extensive treatment for her head injuries. Respondent's workers' compensation insurance carrier, Travelers Insurance Company, paid all the costs for this medical treatment.
Following her discharge from the hospital, petitioner received extensive additional medical treatment. For a period of approximately six months, she was treated by Dr. Edward Von Der Schmidt, a neurosurgeon, Dr. John Vester, a neurologist, and Dr. Nancy Fiedler, a neuropsychologist. The last of the these treatments occurred on January 28, 2005, when petitioner went to her final appointment with Dr. Vester. Travelers paid all the costs of petitioner's authorized medical treatments by these doctors.
Petitioner stayed out of work from the date of her accident until December 6, 2004, when she resumed work on a part-time basis. She went back to work at Princeton Health Care full-time on or about February 1, 2005, where she continued working until March 2007, when she moved from New Jersey to Georgia to accompany her husband, whose job had changed location. Travelers paid petitioner temporary disability benefits at the rate of $551.60 per week during the period of time she was out of work as a result of her accident. These payments totaled $9062.
Approximately a year-and-a-half before her accident, on January 27, 2003, petitioner began counseling with Dr. Susan Huslage, a psychologist. According to petitioner, she began to see Dr. Huslage due to her "anxiety, depressive symptoms, and eating disorder related behaviors." Petitioner testified that this psychological counseling addressed "self-esteem issues as related to work and dealing with the stressors of being in a work environment" and her efforts to build stronger relationships with her family, which was also a cause of stress in her life.
After her accident, petitioner continued to see Dr. Huslage for her psychological problems. In the months immediately following the accident, the physical and psychological consequences of the accident were a focus of Dr. Huslage's counseling. Petitioner continued to see Dr. Huslage until she moved to Georgia with her husband in March 2007.
The costs of petitioner's counseling with Dr. Huslage were paid, both before and after her accident, by her insurance carrier under a group health policy provided through her employer.*fn1 Although petitioner disclosed to two of her supervisors at Princeton Health Care that she was receiving psychological counseling from Dr. Huslage, she deliberately withheld any information regarding this counseling from the Travelers representatives with whom she dealt in connection with the workers' compensation benefits for her medical treatment and temporary disability during the six months following the accident.
On November 6, 2008, more than four years after her accident and more than three-and-a-half years after the last payment by Travelers for petitioner's medical treatment, petitioner filed a claim against Princeton Health Care for partial, permanent workers' compensation benefits. Princeton Health Care moved to dismiss the petition on the ground that it was filed beyond the two-year limitation period allowed by N.J.S.A. 34:15-51.
The Judge of Compensation to whom the case was assigned conducted a two-day hearing with respect to this motion, following which he issued an oral opinion that concluded the petition had been filed after expiration of the two-year period allowed under N.J.S.A. 34:15-51. Following entry of ...