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Appellate Court Approves Dismissal of Firefighter’s Occupational Knee Injury Claim

By on July 24, 2013 in Key Defenses with 0 Comments

John Machiaverna worked for the City of Newark as a firefighter since 1988.  He filed a workers’ compensation claim for his left knee in 2008, alleging that repeated work stressors over many years caused extensive knee problems and a need for knee replacement surgery in May 2007.  He contended that his knee problems were due to regular climbing of extension ladders and stairs, crawling through buildings and carrying people out of buildings.  The City denied the claim and put petitioner to his proofs.

During the testimony at trial, petitioner was asked if he had ever suffered any injuries in his work career.  He testified that he had no previous injuries to his knee or hip.  That testimony fell apart on further questioning.  He then admitted that he injured himself in 2002 when a piece of sheetrock gave way during a fire, causing injury to his left leg. He next admitted on cross examination that he had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee in April 2002.

The petitioner was seen by four IME doctors, two for each side.  The Court noted that he “lied to all four doctors who examined him because he failed to disclose his prior left knee injuries.”  The Judge also commented that he initially failed to admit to having prior knee surgery in April 2002 and failed to admit two incidents in 2001.  The IME doctors testified in court, and their testimony was critical in proving fraud.

Dr. Canario for respondent said that petitioner had not told him about a previous surgery to his left knee in 2002.  In the opinion of Dr. Canario, petitioner’s size and weight were major factors in his knee problems.  Petitioner was six foot five inches tall and weighed 345 pounds.  Dr. Wong for petitioner stated in testimony that petitioner had not told her about his 2002 knee surgery.  Dr. Kulkarni for petitioner also said that petitioner had not told him about three prior knee injuries. 

The Honorable Theresa Yang, Judge of Compensation, found that petitioner was not a credible witness.  She held that in concealing his prior knee injuries and surgery, petitioner committed fraud as defined by the New Jersey Fraud Act, N.J.S.A. 34:15-57.4.  She therefore dismissed the case.

On appeal, petitioner argued that his due process rights had been violated because he was “deprived of the opportunity to defend himself against the court’s allegations of fraud.”  The Appellate Division categorically rejected that position.  “There was sufficient evidence to support Judge Yang’s credibility assessments and her determination that a violation of N.J.S.A. 34:15-57.4 (c) (1) had occurred.”  The Appellate Division held that petitioner failed to prove an occupational claim. 

This case is important because it shows that Judges of Compensation are following the statutory law under the New Jersey Fraud Act.  It is not necessary for an employer to prove a claimant was working while on temporary disability benefits to establish fraud.  That is just one issue in a fraud case.  If a claimant deliberately misrepresents or conceals prior medical information that is relevant to the claim, that in itself constitutes fraud.  The case also shows how important it is for defense counsel to get prior records, whether attacking credibility or attempting to prove fraud.

The case can be found at Machiaverna v. City of Newark, A-5848-11T3, (App. Div. July 18, 2013). 

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This blog article was researched and written by John H. Geaney, a member of the executive committee and equity partner at the law firm of Capehart Scatchard. The content of the this article is intended to provide general information on the topic presented, and is offered with the understanding that the author is not rendering any legal or professional services or advice. This article is not a substitute for legal advice. Should you require such services, retain competent legal counsel.

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About the Author

About the Author:

John H. Geaney, a shareholder and co-chair of Capehart Scatchard's Workers' Compensation department, began an email newsletter entitled Currents in Workers’ Compensation, ADA and FMLA in 2001 in order to keep clients and readers informed on leading developments in these three areas of law. Since that time he has written over 500 newsletter updates.

Mr. Geaney is the author of Geaney’s New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Manual for Practitioners, Adjusters & Employers. The manual is distributed by the New Jersey Institute for Continuing Legal Education (NJICLE). He also authored an ADA and FMLA manual as distributed by NJICLE. If you are interested in purchasing the manual, please contact NJICLE at 732-214-8500 or visit their website at www.njicle.com.

Mr. Geaney represents employers in the defense of workers’ compensation, ADA and FMLA matters. He is a Fellow of the College of Workers’ Compensation Lawyers of the American Bar Association and is certified by the Supreme Court of New Jersey as a workers’ compensation law attorney. He is one of two firm representatives to the National Workers’ Compensation Defense Network. He has served on the Executive Committee of Capehart Scatchard for over ten (10) years.

A graduate of Holy Cross College summa cum laude, Mr. Geaney obtained his law degree from Boston College Law School. He has been named a “Super Lawyer” by his peers and Law and Politics. He serves as Vice President of the Friends of MEND, the fundraising arm of a local charitable organization devoted to promoting affordable housing.

Capehart Scatchard is a full service law firm with offices in Mt. Laurel and Trenton, New Jersey. The firm represents employers and businesses in a wide variety of areas, including workers’ compensation, civil litigation, labor, environmental, business, estates and governmental affairs.

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