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Among the hardest cases for employers to contend with are those where the claimant already has an advanced degenerative or arthritic condition and then has an injury. That was the situation when Veronica Graham, a 55-year-old Certified Nursing Assistant, fell on a wet floor at work on June 25, 2011. She landed on her left hip, buttocks, and back and was diagnosed with a contusion of the left hip.
Initially Graham returned to work with no pain, but within a few days she began to have hip pain. She was referred to a physician who recommended three physical therapy sessions. She was placed on light duty while in physical therapy and then returned to work full duty on her discharge date of July 18, 2011.
Graham said that she did not experience pain after the accident but did start having pain following physical therapy for her left hip. She had to stop working in October due to her pain.
In November 2011, Graham met with Dr. Gregory S. Maslow, an orthopedic surgeon, who prescribed Percocet for pain management and took x-rays, which showed moderately severe degenerative arthritis of the left hip. The x-rays showed petitioner lacked cartilage between her hip bone and hip socket. Dr. Maslow gave an opinion that the work accident caused a previously asymptomatic condition to become symptomatic and thereby accelerated the time frame for a need for hip replacement surgery.
The respondent’s expert, Dr. Hausmann, an orthopedic surgeon, opined that petitioner had “very severe arthritis” and said that this condition predated the work accident. In his opinion, petitioner would have needed total hip replacement surgery regardless of the fall at work. He said that there was a complete loss of the joint space and large spurs around the hip joint.
The Judge of Compensation accepted the testimony of Dr. Maslow over Dr. Hausmann and found for the petitioner. The employer appealed and argued that there was insufficient evidence to support the finding in favor of petitioner. For one thing, the employer argued that petitioner had showed a lack of candor when she failed to disclose an earlier automobile accident and therefore could not be found to be credible in her entire testimony. There is a doctrine in the law derived from the Latin phrase, “falsus in unum, falsus in omnibus.” It means false in one thing, false in everything. The Judge of Compensation disagreed with this philosophy and found that the petitioner’s lack of candor was inconsequential since the prior car accident did not pertain to any hip problem.
The Appellate Division affirmed the decision in favor of petitioner. The court said,“With respect to petitioner’s claim of exacerbation and acceleration of degenerative arthritis, the record amply supports the judge’s finding that petitioner’s accident caused her previously asymptomatic hip to become symptomatic and increasingly painful.” The court cited previous case law to the effect that “Employers take their employees as they find them, ‘with all of the pre-existing disease and infirmity that may exist.’ “Verge v. Cnty. Of Morris, 272 N.J. Super. 118, 125 (App. Div. 1994).
This case involves a fairly common situation for employers. The case involved mostly the concept of “acceleration. ” There was no dispute that petitioner would have needed a hip replacement at some point in time, so the issue in the case was whether the timing of that surgery changed because of the work accident. The court was of the opinion that if the accident hastened the need for surgery, even if surgery would have been inevitable eventually, then the employer must pay for the surgery. In handling similar cases, employers need to focus on prior medical discovery because this case turned on the fact that respondent was never able to prove petitioner had prior hip complaints. The case also shows that proof that a claimant is not candid in testimony will not necessarily doom the petitioner’s case if the judge feels the lack of candor was not material to the claim.
This case may be found at Graham v. Silver Care Nursing Center, A-2923-12T2 (App. Div. March 7, 2014).