Graham v. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey | Workers Comp and Determinations of Credibility

In the following statement from the appellate division a petitioner can read and review the exact standard (a) the appellate court employees to evaluate a workers compensations judge’s decision making process and how the appellate court must give deference to the judge of compensation’s determinations of credibility of the witnesses.

It is a key standard of review that applies to many appellate reviews of trial court’s from municipal and law division cases also.  As a result, the need to preserve all questions in favor of credibility must be addressed at the trial court level on the petitioner’s behalf and his/her doctor’s as well.  When the trial court makes ‘determinations of credibility’ the lawyers must be aware of the ultimate outcome!!

Graham v. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey

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We begin our analysis by noting the scope of our review in a workers’ compensation case.  We must determine 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 and, in the case of agency review, with due regard also to the agency’s expertise where such expertise is a pertinent factor. [Close v. Kordulak Bros., 44 N.J. 589, 599 (1965).

Deference must be accorded the factual findings and legal determinations made by the Judge of Compensation unless they are ‘manifestly unsupported by or inconsistent with competent relevant and reasonably credible evidence as to offend the interests of justice.‘”

Lindquist v. City of Jersey City Fire Dep’t, 175 N.J. 244, 262 (2003) (quoting Perez v. Monmouth Cable Vision, 278 N.J. Super. 275, 282 (App. Div. 1994), certif. denied, 140 N.J. 277 (1995)).

This deference is in part because the compensation court has “the opportunity to evaluate witnesses’ credibility [and has] expertise with respect to weighing the testimony of competing medical experts and appraising the validity of [a petitioner’s] compensation claim.” Ramos v. M & F Fashions, Inc., 154 N.J. 583, 598 (1998).

“Where our review of the record ‘leaves us with the definite conviction that the judge went so wide of the mark that a mistake must have been made,’ we may ‘appraise the record as if we were deciding the matter at inception and make our own findings and conclusions.'”  Manzo v. Amalgamated Industries Union Local 76B, 241 N.J. Super. 604, 609 (App. Div.) (quoting C.B. Snyder Realty Inc. v. BMW of N. Amer. Inc., 233 N.J. Super. 65, 69 (App. Div.) certif. denied, 117 N.J. 165 (1989)), certif. denied, 122 N.J. 372 (1990). The Workers’ Compensation Act, N.J.S.A. 34:15-30, provides that an employee may be compensated for personal injuries from a “compensable occupational disease arising out of and in the course of his employment [.]”  It is the policy of this State to “liberally constru[e] the Act to implement the legislative policy of affording coverage to as many workers as possible.” Brower v. ICT Group, 164 N.J. 367, 373 (2000).

Pursuant to N.J.S.A. 34:15-36: “Disability permanent in quality and partial in character” means a permanent impairment caused by a compensable accident or compensable occupational disease, based upon demonstrable objective medical evidence, which restricts the function of the body or of its members or organs; included in the criteria which shall be considered shall be whether there has been a lessening to a material degree of an employee’s working ability. . . .

Disability permanent in quality and total in character” means a physical or neuropsychiatric total permanent impairment caused by a compensable accident or compensable occupational disease, where no fundamental or marked improvement in such condition can be reasonably expected. Factors other than physical and neuropsychiatric impairments may be considered in the determination of permanent total disability, where such physical and neuropsychiatric impairments constitute at least 75% or higher of total disability. The Port Authority first argues that the judge of compensation failed to properly consider objective medical evidence, failed to set forth the legal standard or criteria required to prove a psychiatric disability, and failed to analyze or apply Graham’s symptoms to the standard.

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