• Award of Benefits Reversed Due to Failure to Properly Weigh the Testimony of Petitioner’s and Respondent’s Competing Medical Experts
  • July 1, 2014 | Author: Dario J. Badalamenti
  • Law Firm: Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin, P.C. - Roseland Office
  • Ascione v. U.S. Airways, Docket No. A-5049-12T1, 2014 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 810 (App. Div., decided 4/10/14)

    The petitioner had been employed as a fleet service agent with the respondent since 1981. His job responsibilities included loading and unloading baggage from planes, working in the bag room, placing baggage on carts, driving diesel and gas tugs, driving the equipment to move planes from the ramp area and de-icing planes. The petitioner filed a claim with the Division of Workers’ Compensation in October of 2009, alleging pulmonary disability resulting from exposure to “deleterious substances” during the course of his 28 years of employment with the respondent.

    At trial, the petitioner’s medical expert testified that the petitioner had “chronic bronchitis and probable restrictive pulmonary disease,” which was exacerbated by his exposure to various pulmonary irritants while in the respondent’s employ. In contrast, the respondent’s medical expert testified that the petitioner had normal lung function, with “no evidence of obstruction, restriction or impairment in diffusion” indicative of pulmonary disability. At the conclusion of trial, the Judge of Compensation issued a written decision in favor of the petitioner, but she made no critical findings concerning the conflicting testimony of either expert. Rather, only factual findings as to the petitioner’s work environment were made. The Judge of Compensation found the petitioner’s diagnosis of chronic bronchitis “to be consistent, logical and probable in the context of petitioner’s workplace exposure and complaints,” and awarded the petitioner compensation benefits. The respondent appealed.

    In reversing the Judge of Compensation’s holding and remanding for further proceedings, the Appellate Division relied on Perez v. Pantasote, Inc., 95 N.J. 105 (1984), in which the court explained that, in order to obtain disability under the workers’ compensation statute, a claimant must first make a satisfactory showing of demonstrable objective medical evidence of functional loss. The claimant’s mere subjective complaints are insufficient to satisfy this burden. The Appellate Division concluded that the Judge of Compensation, although an expert with respect to weighing the testimony of competing medical experts, failed to provide “clear, complete and articulate reasons grounded in the evidence” to explain her decision.

    Accordingly, the Appellate Division reversed the Judge’s holding and remanded the matter for more detailed findings, including specific findings as to the credibility of the petitioner’s and the respondent’s medical experts.