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Molnar v. American Smelting and Refining Co.

Decided: July 16, 1941.

HELEN MOLNAR, PETITIONER-DEFENDANT,
v.
AMERICAN SMELTING AND REFINING COMPANY, RESPONDENT-PROSECUTOR



On writ of certiorari.

For the petitioner-defendant, David I. Stepacoff.

For the respondent-prosecutor, Francis M. Seaman.

Before Brogan, Chief Justice, and Justices Case and Heher.

Case

The opinion of the court was delivered by

CASE, J. The litigation arises out of the Employers' Liability Act. Plaintiff's decedent died under circumstances hereinafter related while at his place of employment on

March 21st, 1939. The Workmen's Compensation Bureau determined that the petitioner had not carried the burden of proof and dismissed the petition. The Middlesex Common Pleas held, on appeal, that Molnar died as the result of an accident arising out of and in the course of his employment, that death was caused by overexertion whereby the decedent suffered an accidental strain of the heart and found for the petitioner.

Decedent was employed by American Smelting and Refining Company as a furnace man. His duties included working on a heavy pot which weighed between 600 and 700 pounds and which had to be pulled away from the furnace to a brick platform -- a distance varying from ten to twenty-four feet. He worked at that employment to and including a part of March 21st, 1939. His shift on that day was from midnight until eight o'clock in the morning. He began his work at the appointed time and two or three hours later had occasion to pull the pot away from the furnace. According to one of the two witnesses of the event the wheel became caught in an irregularity in the flooring which caused Molnar to exert unusual force in extricating it; the credibility of that testimony is attacked and we do not rely upon it. It is conceded, however, that after Molnar got the pot in its proper position and started ladling therefrom he complained of severe pains in the heart and chest, withdrew to the office a few feet distant, threw himself upon the desk and presently rolled therefrom dead. Not more than twelve to fifteen minutes elapsed between the moving of the pot and Molnar's death. There was a predisposing physical condition.

The man died of heart failure. The heart action did not merely fade out; it was stopped by forces accompanied by terrific pain; and the question is whether this physical experience was in any measure provoked by the man's concomitant service in his employment. We think that only confusion would come from an attempt to compare or to distinguish the various and highly technical medical phrases and hypotheses. In our opinion and by our finding the death would not have occurred when it did except for the physical exertions put forth by the employee in the due performance

of his work. Upon the facts here stated and our conclusion as just expressed we think that the holding of the Court of Errors and Appeals in Hentz v. Janssen Dairy Corp., 122 N.J.L. 494, is controlling. As for an accident in the sense used in the earlier days, there was none; but it appears to be the effect of our more recent decisions that where the performance of manual labor entails a strain upon the heart without which death would not have occurred but in consequence of which, combined with causes disassociated with the employment, death does occur the experience constitutes an accident within the meaning of the Employers' Liability Act, and that when the contributory strain arises out of and in the course of the employment the accident likewise so arises.

Our Court of Errors and Appeals has held that "* * * the requirement that the injury or death arise by accident, under our statute, is satisfied if the claimant discharges the burden of proving that the condition complained of, i.e., the injury or death, is related to or affected by the employment, that is to say, if but for the employment it would not have occurred." Bollinger v. Wagaraw Building Supply Co., 122 N.J.L. 512, 520; Ciocca v. National Sugar Refining Co., 124 Id. 329, 334. In the English case of James v. Partridge Jones et al., 6 A.C. 501; 26 Butterworth's Workmen's Compensation Cases 277, at least twice cited with approval by our Court of Errors ...


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