Constanzo v. Meridian Rehab, No. A-5547-18 (App. Div. June 17, 2021)

According to Appellate Division, judges are in the best position to assess credibility and giving more weight to one expert’s opinion is not a basis to reverse a judgment.

The Appellate Division affirmed a workers’ compensation court order denying additional medical and temporary benefits to the petitioner. The petitioner slipped and fell on April 1, 2016, and a left knee injury was accepted as compensable. An MRI in June 2016 revealed no meniscus tear, ligament tear, or fracture and only pre-existing thinning of the patellofemoral cartilage and osteoarthritis. The petitioner underwent treatment for the left knee and resumed working for the respondent. In August 2017, she suffered a right knee meniscus tear while walking on a beach and underwent surgery that same month.

In January 2018, another MRI of the left knee revealed a torn medial meniscus tear with a displaced fragment as well as a torn ACL. The petitioner filed a motion for additional treatment to the left knee and during trial testified she did not injure her left knee in August 2017. The petitioner presented Dr. Cary Skolnick’s testimony, who opined the tears were related to the April 2016 incident. Dr. Skolnick conceded the tears were not present in the June 2016 MRI, but claimed the meniscus was “elongated” and tore over time. He also opined the pre-existing arthritis worsened. 

The respondent’s expert, Dr. Shawn Sieler testified the petitioner had a left knee contusion as a result of the April 2016 fall, had appropriate treatment and was fully recovered. He indicated that tears do not happen spontaneously and that the tears in the January 2018 MRI “can only be explained by some subsequent traumatic incident.” He found no evidence of “elongation” in the June 2016 MRI and that the arthritis pre-existed the April 2016 incident. 

The judge concluded that Dr. Skolnick’s opinions were not credible and his credibility was further weakened due to his argumentative nature with respondent’s attorney during cross examination. The judge found Dr. Sieler’s testimony to be more credible and was supported by the MRIs. Based on same, the judge ruled the petitioner failed to establish a causal relationship between the original injury and her current left knee condition.

The petitioner then appealed, arguing she presented sufficient evidence to meet her burden to establish the need for treatment and related to the work injury and that the judge erred in assessing Dr. Skolnick’s credibility. The Appellate Division disagreed with the petitioner’s contentions, relying on the judge’s reasoning and that the ample evidence supported that the current left knee condition was not related to the April 2016 incident. Furthermore, the judge did not err in giving greater weight to Dr. Sieler’s testimony, as judges are in the best position to assess credibility, and giving more weight to one expert’s opinion is not a basis to reverse a judgment.

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