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PAM’S WORKERS’ COMPENSATION JOURNEY Total Disability Trial
Pam has always been a hard worker. She got her first job in grammar school, delivering newspapers, and has worked ever since. Nothing could slow her down, until she hurt herself lifting at work in 2008. After the accident, she struggled to find relief for her neck and back pain through conservative means, including multiple courses of physical therapy, facet injections, and pain medication. This treatment dulled the pain but did not increase her mobility. Pam retained me to file a claim in New Jersey’s Division of Workers’ Compensation. Her case initially settled in 2011 with the right to reopen if her injuries became significantly worse. Unfortunately, things got worse for Pam, prompting her to return to our firm to file an application to modify her prior award. The workers’ comp insurance carrier did not make it easy for Pam. The carrier fought every step of the way — initially by denying the authorization for neck surgery, which was recommended by the workers’ comp doctor. We filed a motion for medical treatment on Pam’s behalf, obtaining a court order requiring the carrier to authorize the surgery. In addition to her neck pain, Pam developed a “foot drop” stemming from her lower back injury. Although she experienced pain down her leg since 2008, the workers’ comp doctor failed to adequately document this symptom and then contended that the foot drop was a new condition, unrelated to the original accident. Her foot drop became so severe that Pam was constantly tripping. We sent Pam to an independent neurosurgeon who wrote a report explaining the progression of her symptoms and why she required back surgery. Following another court battle, the workers’ comp carrier relented and agreed to pay for Pam’s back surgery. After Pam was discharged by her doctors and attended permanency evaluations, we began settlement negotiations with the workers’ comp carrier. Pam was tempted to accept a lucrative offer to settle her claim for 66% partial total disability, which would have provided her with weekly benefits for several years. Pam always wanted to believe that she could return to the workforce. She derived a sense of independence and dignity from going to work every day. However, Pam was afraid she would be unable to support herself when the “partial total” benefits stopped, and she was still incapable of working due to her injuries. She thus made the brave decision to reject the offer and proceed with a trial, seeking an award of total disability.
Pam with her family.
faced from the moment she woke up in the morning until the time her head hit the pillow at night, to communicate the depth of her pain to the Judge of Compensation. When asked at trial whether she was glad she had the back surgery, she testified, “I don’t think that I had a choice … It’s the last thing I wanted, but I needed to do something to improve my life, and I thought there was a chance that it would, so I had to take it.” Unfortunately, the back surgery did not eliminate all of her symptoms. She still suffers from pain, stiffness, difficulty walking, trouble sitting for long periods of time, and restricted motion in her neck, as well as numbness in her hands due to her injuries. Following Pam’s testimony, the Judge of Compensation recommended an award of total, permanent disability, finding that it was unlikely Pam would ever return to gainful employment. Pamwas nervous about the trial but found it to be almost a cathartic experience, being able to share her struggles with the Judge and get validation. “I felt like I finally had some of my dignity restored,”Pam says. It was a pleasure to stand by her side to fight for her to receive the compensation she deserved, so that she would not need to worry about her future. Pam felt immense relief when the court ordered the insurance carrier to pay her disability benefits every week for the rest of her life. During the final hearing, the Judge commented on Pam’s tears of relief, stating that the hardships she endured were obvious, and wished her well. Unfortunately, money cannot bring back the years she lost or lessen her pain. But it does provide a degree of security that she will be able to keep food on her table and a roof over her head, and the award acknowledges her suffering. “You need money to live, but there’s a bigger picture out there,”Pam says.
We at PMB are so pleased to have helped Pam obtain full compensation for her injuries.
–Lisa Pezzano Mickey
We prepared Pam for trial by reviewing the questions that she would be asked in court, to help her paint a complete picture of the difficulties she
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