Appellate Division Affirms Award of Temporary Disability Workers’ Compensation Benefits

Appellate Division Affirms Award of Temporary Disability Workers’ Compensation Benefits

On January 31st, 2011, Michael Johnson—an employee of Hamilton Township’s Water Pollution Control Facility represented by David Schroth, Esq—reached inside a control panel that regulated the flow of sludge for the facility.  The panel malfunctioned, however, and Johnson was severely electrocuted.  He was found semi-conscious and drooped against a dumpster, his hands black and charred.  Unresponsive, emergency responders took him to the hospital.  Though he recovered from the more externally evident burns, he continued to feel pain in his chest, and experience headaches, psychological problems, and tingling and numbness in his hands.

A workers’ compensation court awarded Johnson temporary disability benefits.  And Hamilton Township appealed the decision.  But this week, the Appellate Division upheld the order of the workers’ comp court.

The appeals court took note of the potential error made by the lower court in using certain misstatements by a treating physician in the decision to award benefits.  This error, however, was irrelevant.  Johnson was applying for temporary, not permanent, disability.  And temporary disability awards don’t require a showing of “demonstrable objective medical evidence.”  Instead, “competent medical evidence that treatment was reasonably necessary to cure or relieve the effects of the injury” was sufficient.  And this apparently lesser standard was satisfied.

“Of course,” wrote the Appellate Division, “the presence or absence of demonstrable objective medical evidence may affect the weight of an employee’s case for temporary disability and medical benefits.  It is not a prerequisite, however.”

That type of evidence may have been absent here.  But Mr. Johnson was not required to present it.  And, the appeals court concluded, even if he was required to do so, the discretion provided a workers’ compensation judge is broader than the sum of these rules: “denial of benefits is not mandatory and the compensation judge’s decision to [use the testimony by this doctor would only have been relevant had the judge been] manifestly mistaken.”

For the text of this case, see