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McDonough v. Sears

Decided: July 25, 1941.

JOSEPH MCDONOUGH, PETITIONER-DEFENDANT,
v.
SEARS, ROEBUCK AND CO., RESPONDENT-PROSECUTOR



On certiorari.

For the prosecutor, Frederick J. Gassert.

For the defendant, Waugh, Torppey & Consodine (William A. Consodine, of counsel).

Before Justices Donges and Heher.

Heher

The opinion of the court was delivered by

HEHER, J. The point in question is whether an accidental injury suffered by an employee of prosecutor while undergoing hospital treatment for an injury concededly within article 2 of the Workmen's Compensation Act (R.S. 1937, 34:15-7, et seq.) is also compensable thereunder as a consequent of the original industrial mishap.

The first accident occurred on March 30th, 1937. It resulted in the amputation of the employee's left index finger. On April 14th ensuing, while still convalescing at the hospital, an alcohol dressing of the injured member ignited when he struck a match to light a cigarette, and the resultant burns were so severe as to require the amputation of the remaining fingers and the thumb.

The Compensation Bureau dismissed the petition for compensation. The Essex Court of Common Pleas ruled that "the alcohol on the bandage was part of the treatment that was necessitated by the original accident;" that it "was an added (if not unusual) hazard the presence of which was necessitated and caused by" that casualty; and that it "constituted an effective, contributing, essential cause of the fire and the accompanying burns, and of the consequent amputation of the fingers," and hence "an unbroken chain of causation is established;" and there was an award accordingly. We do not entertain this view.

The question is a mixed one of law and fact. Though this statutory cause of action is not predicated upon a violation of duty classable as negligence, and so the principle of liability for the natural and proximate results of such misconduct has no application, it is yet requisite that there be a chain of physical causation between the industrial accident and the injury. The chain of causation must be continuous. It if be broken by an intervening independent cause, the industrial

mishap is deemed in law causa remota as regards the new injury. The essential relationship does not exist unless the accident be a proximate contributing cause of the injury. The statute comprehends only such disability as ensues from an accident arising out of and in the course of the employment. This provision is not to be extended beyond its fair implications. The employer is chargeable with the direct consequences of the accident and not with those only remotely flowing therefrom. Newcomb v. Albertson, 85 N.J.L. 435; Selak v. Murray Rubber Co., 8 N.J. Mis. R. 838; affirmed, 108 N.J.L. 548; Tutino v. Ford Motor Co., 111 Id. 435; Hall v. Doremus, 114 Id. 47; Kuczynski v. Humphrey, 118 Id. 321; Flanagan v. Charles E. Green & Son, 121 Id. 327; affirmed, 122 Id. 424. See, also, City of Milwaukee v. Industrial Commission, 160 Wis. 238; 151 N.W. Rep. 247; 127 A.L.R. 1108.

In short, the inquiry is whether the injury is reasonably attributable to a proximate cause set in motion by the accident rather than by some other agency. In Selak v. Murray Rubber Co., supra, the workman sustained a fracture of his left forearm, and was granted compensation therefor. He returned to his work in February, and during the following October, while on his way home, slipped and fell on the highway and again suffered a fracture of the left forearm in the same place. The Compensation Bureau found that "boney union was far from complete, and that because of this weakness, due to the primary industrial accident, a condition existed which caused a secondary event to prolong the disability." It was pointed out that the "medical testimony was definite, that the original fracture" was "responsible for the present condition." In adopting that conclusion, this court said that it was well grounded in the testimony of the single medical witness called that "the injury was due to a threefold condition: the earlier fracture; the failure to form a proper union ...


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