Why is my Worker’s Compensation award so small and the benefits so low?

Sondhi v Tropicana Hotel and Casino decided February 13, 2017

Submitted by New Jersey Workers Compensation Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark

In this case the petitioner appeals the workers compensation judge’s determination that he should be awarded more than a 30% partial disability of the statutory left foot. The judge considered the medical records and the parties’ expert reports. The petitioner attempted to argue that he had other pre-existing conditions which became worse as a result of the work related injury and as a result they should be included and his overall percentage of disability.

One has to remember, as I’m sure this attorney did, that the statutory entitlements are governed by a annual scale of the total dollar amounts of disability closely linked to percentages of disability. The judge does not considered dollar amounts of award, merely what the percentage of disabilities are relative to the two opposing doctors who provide expert opinion as well as his/her own expertise as a workers’ compensation judge and as a prior attorney who had many years experience practicing in this particular field of law.

The other issue in this brief opinion is the fact that the judge of compensation is provided great difference in his decision by the appellate panel. We have written numerous blogs addressing the trial judges’ authority and the limited review of the Appellate Division in other opinions. It is enough to say that so long as the trial judges’ decisions are supported by objective medical credible evidence from the record itself, the decisions shall be insulated from appellate review.

In this case, the appellate panel did find that: based on the hearing record(the trial), the doctor testimony,  medical exhibits, the applicable legal principles, the trial judge from the Worker’s Compensation Court did in fact support his decision by sufficient credible evidence on the record as a whole. Accordingly without making any further determination the decision from the trial judge was affirmed.

Remember, as an aside, so long as the judge is basing his decision on the facts in the record, the credibility of the witnesses who he observed firsthand and has familiarity and knowledge of  the medical testimony, his decision will not be overturned. The Appellate Division has to give the trial judge great deference regarding issues of credibility and his personal observations of the witnesses and their credibility when they testify before him live and in person. Also the Worker’s Compensation judges are considered an expert in their specific field of workers compensation law, medical issues, and percentages of disability. The Appellate Division will not interrupt that level of discretion unless there exists a clear and convincing showing of abuse of that power.  No such arguments were made here, merely that this petitioner thought his claim was work more than the judge awarded him after a trial.

Jeffrey S. Hark, Esq.

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