Decisions of a Workers’ Compensation Judge are appealable directly to the New Jersey Appellate Court. An appeal of the Workers’ Compensation Judge’s opinion must be made within 45 days of the entry of the final order. How does the appeals court rule where there was a disagreement between the doctors who testified in the workers’ compensation case?
The Scope of Review.
The scope of review by the Appellate Division is “the same as that on appeal in any non-jury case, that is, whether the findings made could reasonably have been reached on sufficient credible evidence present in the record, considering the proofs as a whole, with due regard to the opportunity of the one who heard the witnesses to judge of their credibility.” Close v. Kordulak Bros., 44 N.J. 589, 599 (1965), quoting State v. Johnson, 42 N.J. 146, 162 (1964).
Thus, the findings of fact made by a judge of compensation “are entitled to substantial deference.” Ramos v. M & F Fashions, Inc., 154 N.J. 583, 294 (1998). But how does the appeals court review cases where there was a significant split – a disagreement – between the doctors who testified in the workers’ compensation case? How does the Appellate Division review a case where the Trial Judge agrees with one side’s doctors over the other?
“Insofar as medical testimony is concerned, it is undisputed that the Judge of Compensation is not bound by the conclusional opinions of any one or more, or all of the medical experts.” Perez v. Capitol Ornamental, Concrete Specialties, Inc., 288 N.J. Super. 359, 367 (App. Div. 1996) quoting Lightner v. Cohn, 76 N.J. Super. 461, 465 (App. Div. 1962).
So long as the Judge’s findings are supported by articulated reasons grounded in the evidence, we must defer to her expertise in assessing disability.” Id., citing Lewicki v. N.J. Art Foundry, 88 N.J. 75, 88-90 (1981).
Deference to the Workers’ Compensation Judge.
A Workers’ Compensation Judge is granted deference because the judge had the opportunity to determine credibility based upon observations of the witness. Perez v. Capitol Ornamental, Concrete Specialties, Inc.”>Perez v. Capitol, supra. The Appellate Court is obligated to give “due regard to the judge’s expertise in the field of workers’ compensation and her opportunity of seeing the witnesses and evaluating their credibility.” Bradley v. Henry Townsend Moving and Storage Co., 78 N.J. 532, 534 (1979) and Close, supra, at 589. In short, a Compensation Judge’s decision will be affirmed if the Appellate Court is satisfied that the conclusions the judge reached were supported by sufficient credible evidence at trial.