JOHN J. MACHIAVERNA, Petitioner-Appellant,
CITY OF NEWARK, Respondent-Respondent.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Argued April 29, 2013
On appeal from the Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Division of Workers' Compensation, Claim Petition No. 2008-4947.
Pablo N. Blanco argued the cause for appellant (Blanco Law Firm, L.L.C., attorneys; Mr. Blanco, on the brief).
Alison Brown Jones, Assistant Corporation Counsel, argued the cause for respondent (Anna P. Pereira, Corporation Counsel, attorney; Ms. Jones, on the brief).
Before Judges Espinosa and Guadagno.
Petitioner John Machiaverna appeals from the June 15, 2012 order of the Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Division of Workers' Compensation, dismissing his workers' compensation petition with prejudice. The judge of compensation found that petitioner failed to prove that he sustained an occupational exposure in accordance with N.J.S.A. 34:15-31, and that petitioner violated the Worker's Compensation Fraud Act, N.J.S.A. 34:15-57.4(c)(1). Petitioner presents the novel argument that the judge of compensation violated his due process rights by finding his claim fraudulent without first giving him notice and an opportunity to be heard. For the following reasons, we reject this argument and the others raised by petitioner and affirm.
Petitioner was employed by the City of Newark (the City) as a firefighter since 1988. On November 5, 2008, petitioner filed a workers' compensation claim alleging he was injured in the performance of his duties. Petitioner claimed orthopedic and neurological injury through "repetitive motion" to his left leg, knee and hip.
Petitioner and the City each retained two medical experts who examined petitioner and prepared reports. Trial began on January 10, 2011. Petitioner testified that, as part of his job, he had to climb extension ladders and stairs of high rise buildings, crawl through buildings and assist in carrying people out of buildings, all while wearing up to eighty pounds of equipment. His duties as a firefighter required him to be on his feet for the majority of his shifts. In addition to traditional firefighting, petitioner also responded to emergency medical calls and motor vehicle accidents, which would often require extracting people from vehicles with the use of heavy equipment.
When asked on direct if he "ever [had] any injuries in [his] work career that [he] sought treatment for[, ]" petitioner replied, "just the normal bumps and bangs." He stated that he had filed a workers' compensation claim against the City in 1993 after he fell through a hole to the floor below and broke three vertebrae. He specifically denied sustaining any previous injuries to his knee or hip. However, when pressed, petitioner stated that he could recall one incident in July 2002,  in which his fellow firefighters were cutting off the roof of a house that was on fire and throwing the debris to the ground below. As he was "walk[ing] on a pile of debris" to get the hose, a piece of sheetrock "gave way, " causing his left leg to get "caught" beneath two-by-fours. He stated, however, that he did not receive immediate medical treatment for this injury, nor did he file a workers' compensation claim.
Petitioner testified that he first sought medical treatment for his current knee problems in 2003 or 2004, but that he had "hobbled on it for much longer than [he] should have." He was first told by Dr. DeLuca in 2003 or 2004 that he would eventually have to have his knee replaced. Dr. Jaffe performed this surgery on May 25, 2007.
Petitioner testified that he reported his knee replacement surgery to the City, but was not certain whether he told the City it was work-related: "I just said that I needed to have my knee replaced. So I can't really say that I told them that it was work-related[.]" As a result of his surgery, petitioner was out of work from the end of May until November 2, 2007. Since ...