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Sunday, December 19, 2010

Medical Witness Cannot Be An Advocate - Knee Replacement Surgery Authorized

A workers' compensation medical witness is not permitted to be become an advocate. A Judge of Compensation disregarded an insurance company medical witness when the medical expert "crossed the line from being a medical witness to an advocate."

In reaching her decision, Diana Ferriero, Judge of Compensation, rationalized that the insurance company's medical expert by the "convoluted cover letter sent by respondent counsel," along with medical records on the injured worker. 

The injured employer suffered two work related accidents as a mechanic for American Airlines. The first accident in to the right knee occurred in July 2004 and resulted in a partial menisectomy and no prolonged sequelae. The worker was symptom free until a second accident in January 2007when he slipped and fell on both knees and hands. The insurance company authorized 28 medical office visits, 15 Hyalgan injections, 14 aspirations and physical therapy for treatment to his right knee. A diagnosis was made by the treating physician and the insurance company refused the injured worker a total knee replacement claiming that the medical condition was unrelated to the 2nd accident of January 2007.

The workers' compensation Judge ordered an independent medical evaluation by a renowned specialist in knee and hip replacements, Mark A, Hartzband of the Hackensack University Medical Center. The judge concluded that, "Dr, Hartzband opined that petitioner's need for a right total knee replacement was directly and causally related to the accident of January 17, 2007."

The court also found that the insurance company's treating physician, who opined that the 2nd accident was unrelated to the need for a knee replacement, was "disingenuous given the contents of his office chart," and reasoned that the insurance company's authorized treating physician did not have an understanding of arthritis and its progression.

The court granted the injured workers' motion for medical treatment, evaluation and scheduling of the right knee replacement, and ordered the payment of temporary medical benefits.

Pepe v. American Airlines, CP No. 2008-5878, NJ DWC 2010), Decided November 11, 2010.