MARGIE E. RAIMONDI, Petitioner-Respondent,
MORRIS COUNTY PARK POLICE AND COMMISSION, Respondent-Appellant.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted October 1, 2013
On appeal from the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Division of Workers' Compensation, Claim Petition Nos. 2011-13980, 2011-13815.
Daniel W. O'Mullan, Morris County Counsel, attorney for appellant (Christopher G. Meikle, Special County Counsel, and Robert M. Brigantic, Special County Counsel, on the brief).
Laddey, Clark & Ryan, attorneys for respondent (William P. Knox and Jonathan E. McMeen, on the brief).
Before Judges Sabatino and Rothstadt.
The Morris County Park Police and Commission ("MCPPC") appeals from a determination by a worker's compensation court that petitioner Margie Raimondi suffers from work-related Lyme disease; and from the court's July 27, 2012 order requiring MCPPC to provide her temporary disability and medical benefits, and particularly to pay for her hyperbaric oxygen treatment ("HOT"). MCPPC argues that the compensation judge reached a decision unsupported by and inconsistent with the law and the credible evidence adduced at the hearings, because there was no objective evidence that Raimondi suffered from Lyme disease. Even if she suffered from Lyme disease, MCPPC argues that there was no evidence that HOT is an appropriate or acceptable treatment for that condition because it is allegedly experimental and risky. In addition, MCPPC challenges the judge's evidential ruling that barred its expert from testifying to consultations that he had with other doctors about Raimondi's condition and their opinions about HOT.
MCPPC urges this court to conduct a de novo review of the hearing and to reverse the compensation judge's determination. However, we decline to do so. We affirm because there was substantial, credible evidence in the record to support the judge's determinations, and his ruling which barred the introduction of hearsay expert opinion did not constitute an abuse of discretion.
Raimondi began working for MCPPC in September 2005, initially assigned as a patrol officer (on foot, and by car), and later as a mounted patrol officer (on horseback). Her duties as a mounted patrol officer included maintaining the horses and stables, in addition to patrolling the woods and county parks on horseback.
The areas of the park that she patrolled included wooded areas where deer frequented. Thus, she was regularly exposed to ticks in her work, often "plucking" them off her clothing during working hours, and finding more on her body (usually her arms and chest) at the end of the day. She claims to have experienced tick bites "many times." However, she could not recall any specific dates and times when she was bitten, nor could she recall ever developing a "bullseye"-shaped rash — a common indicator of a tick bite bearing Lyme disease.
In late 2006, Raimondi began to experience chronic fatigue, pain in her muscles and joints, and stiffness in her neck, among other things. According to a blood test, Raimondi suffered from Lyme disease as of August 2006. Her condition worsened during the next two years, causing her to exhaust her sick leave because she was bedridden for approximately three to three-and-a-half months.
By late 2008 Raimondi's condition had improved so that she could return to work, though her illness forced her to switch to "light duty": her responsibilities were limited to clerical work and office administration. She worked in this capacity until early 2009, when her illness forced her to leave work again.
Specifically, on March 12, 2009, Raimondi suffered an attack to her central nervous system. Doctors at Morristown Memorial Hospital admitted her for treatment, where she remained for about one week. From that time and to the present day, she has been under the care of her treating physician Max G. DeShaw, M.D. - a board certified medical doctor who specializes in infectious diseases, and regularly treats Lyme disease patients. Dr. DeShaw diagnosed Raimondi with late musculoskeletal Lyme disease at that time.
After her release from the hospital, Raimondi remained in bed at home for the next nine months. During the first six months, she received antibiotic medication through intravenous drip ("IV"). These treatments improved her symptoms.
In December 2009, Raimondi returned to work, resuming her "light duty" responsibilities. Then, in April 2010, she returned to her regular responsibilities, including mounted patrol in the park. However, Raimondi continued to experience fatigue, joint pain, muscular ache, and pain in her neck and back.
On March 25, 2011, Raimondi fell on a patch of black ice while clearing snow off of a patrol car; she slipped forward, landing on her hands and knees. Her chin also hit the ground, causing her head to snap backwards. Thinking she had suffered a mild muscle injury, Raimondi made a "precautionary" report of her injury to MCPPC. Meanwhile, she continued working until the end of her shift, and further completed her five-day work schedule. Throughout this time, however, her condition worsened: she experienced pain, primarily in her neck and trapezius, and radiating down her spine. She also experienced intermittent numbness in her left hand.
As she would later testify, when compared to what she had experienced before the fall, Raimondi's post-accident symptoms were like "[n]ight and day." With her illness, she had described a "burning, electric" pain, fatigue, muscle and joint pain, and headaches. However, following her accident she began to experience severe spasms, and pain in her neck and hips. She eventually went to the hospital on April 3, 2011, and was bedridden for the next five days.
Dr. DeShaw determined that the accident aggravated Raimondi's underlying Lyme disease symptoms. Jeffrey A. Siegel, M.D., also treated Raimondi for her accident-related injuries. He is an orthopedist and one of MCPPC's authorized doctors. According to Dr. Siegel's April 26, 2011 report, Raimondi's post-accident symptoms were "perhaps" attributable in part to her "history of Lyme disease with central nervous system involvement." Dr. Siegel referred Raimondi for physical therapy, which she completed after approximately five weeks. By May ...