For the prosecutrix, George A. Henderson.
For the respondent, McCarter, English & Egner (John J. Breslin, Jr., of counsel).
Before Brogan, Chief Justice, and Justices Parker and Perskie.
The opinion of the court was delivered by
PERSKIE, J. The single question requiring decision in this workmen's compensation case is whether, as petitioner claims, decedent's death was the result of an accident (an electric shock) arising out of and in the course of his employment, or whether, as respondent claims, decedent's death was the result of natural causes (coronary occlusion and sclerosis) not in anywise connected with the decedent's employment.
Frank Kuropata, a man forty-one years of age, had been employed by respondent company for twenty-three years as a laborer and general workman in and about its plant. He had, according to the testimony of petitioner (his wife since 1927), enjoyed excellent health all during their married life, never having consulted a doctor.
On Sunday, August 8th, 1937, about two-thirty in the afternoon, Kuropata, along with two fellow workmen, was engaged in the cleaning of a vat, about eight feet square and eight feet in height. Decedent had been working for about two or two and one-half hours inside the vat with one of the other workmen. His work consisted of removing the dirt that had collected between and around the coils at the bottom of the vat and of placing the same into pails. These pails were taken away by a third workman who was stationed on the platform outside the vat. To furnish additional light inside the vat an extension cord had been hung from a beam placed over the top of the vat. At the completion of his work, decedent, apparently intending to hand the cord to the workman outside the vat, reached upward and grasped the cord with his left hand. While his hand was on the cord, he uttered some exclamation, collapsed and fell on some of the hot steam pipes located inside the vat. He suffered burns on his face, right hand and forearm. One of the other workmen shouted to a third man to disconnect the electric cord extension -- which was done. Fellow workmen then took decedent, who was unconscious, out of the vat and carried him to one of respondent's char houses. The workmen assumed that decedent had suffered an electric shock and a call was made to the police. An emergency crew of police and firemen was dispatched. When Dr. H. D'Agostin arrived, a few minutes later, he found a gas mask strapped to decedent's face and either policemen or firemen (he was not certain as to which) were administering artificial respiration. He found that the whole upper part of decedent's face was "deeply cyanotic," i.e., ashen blue; and he found "second degree burns on his face and on his right forearm." Although Dr. D'Agostin was of the opinion that decedent was dead before he (the doctor) had arrived, he intravenously injected into decedent
"coramine, caffeine and sodium benzoate" and continued with the artificial respiration, but without avail.
Dr. Greenfield, assistant county physician, at first also "thought that decedent had been electrocuted," and, apparently so stated in the first death certificate issued. He, however, changed his mind. For said he, after "further question and further history of the case, his feeling was such that it [decedent's death] didn't seem like electrocution and that is why the autopsy was ordered [by Dr. D'Agostin] and we proceeded to do it."
The autopsy was performed by Dr. Greenfield the day following decedent's death. Dr. Greenfield then made out the only death certificate now before us which states the principal cause of death to be "coronary sclerosis and occlusion," with a question mark inserted in the column entitled "date of ...