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Geltman v. Reliable Linen & Supply Co.

1942 Decided: January 00, 0000.


On appeal from a judgment of the Supreme Court, whose opinion is reported in 127 N.J.L. 487.

For the appellant, David Roskein (Harry Cohn, of counsel).

For the respondent, Clarence B. Tippett.


The opinion of the court was delivered by

HEHER, J. The question for decision is whether the facts as found by the Supreme Court reveal that the employee's death was due to an accident which arose out of and in the course of his employment within the intendment of R.S. 1937, 34:15-7, et seq. If it be resolved in the affirmative, there was error in matter of law in the dismissal of the petition for compensation interposed on behalf of the dependents.

There was an "accident" in the legislative view. The expression is used in the popular and ordinary sense and has a wide signification. Its accepted definition is "an unlookedfor mishap or untoward event which is not expected or designed." Bryant, Adm'x, v. Fissell, 84 N.J.L. 72. The English Compensation Act of 1906 (6 Edw. VII, 1906, ch. 58, P1 (1)) is the prototype of ours; and the interpretation of this common basic provision adopted by the courts of that country may well be considered in determining the legislative intent. Hall v. Doremus, 114 N.J.L. 47. Indeed, the definition approved in Bryant, Adm'x, Fissell, supra, is Lord Macnaghten's in Fenton v. Thorley & Co., Ltd. (1903), A.C. 443, construing the like provision of the earlier act of 1897. 60, 61 Vict. (1897), ch. 37, P1 (1). In the later case of Trim Joint District School v. Kelly (1914), A.C. 667; 7 B.W.C.C. 274, an assistant master of a training school for children suffered a fatal skull fracture at the hands of boys under his charge who had entered into a conspiracy to assault him in retaliation for unwelcome discipline; and the House of Lords categorized the occurrence as an accident within the purview of the statute, not the less so "merely for the reason that it was caused by deliberate violence." Viscount Haldane, L.C., read the word "designed" in Lord Macnaghten's definition as referring to "designed the sufferer."

He continued: "If the object of this statute be as wide as I gather from the study of its language, its construction must, as it appears to me, be that accident includes any injury which is not expected or designed by the workman himself. * * * To take a different view appears to me to amount, in the language of Mathew, L.J., in Challis v. L. and S.W.R. Co. (1905), 2 K.B. 154; ( W.C.C. 23, to the reading into the act of a proviso that an accident is not to be deemed within it if it arises from the mischievous act of a person not in the service of the employer." If, he said, the workman is the victim of "unexpected misfortune," the consequent injury is compensable, subject to the all important limitation that the "risk should have arisen out of and in the course of the employment."

And Lord Loreburn, concurring in the judgment, stated that the term "accident" is to be construed "in the popular sense, as plain people would understand it," but also " in its setting, in the context, and in the light of the purpose which appears from the act itself." After pointing to the variety of meanings in ordinary usage, he declared: "In short, the common meaning of this word is ruled neither by logic nor by etymology, but by custom, and no formula will precisely express its usage for all cases." Addressing himself to the argument that the employee "could not have been killed by accident because he was struck by design," he observed: "Suppose some ruffian laid a log on the rails and wrecked a train, is the guard who has been injured excluded from the act? Is a gamekeeper who is shot by poachers excluded from the act? There was design enough in either case, and of the worst kind. In either case I should have thought, if you looked at the nature of the man's employment, you might say he was injured by what was accident in that employment. * * * I find that to treat the word 'accident' as though the act meant to contrast it with design would exclude from what I am sure was an intended benefit, numbers of cases which are to my mind obviously within the mischief. That makes me realize the value of the old rule about construing a remedial statute. Just as in the case of the guard or the gamekeeper, so here, this man was injured by what was accident in the

employment in which he was engaged. It is not the less so that the person who inflicted the injury acted deliberately." This interpretation was followed in Reid v. British and Irish Steam Packel Co., Ltd. (1921), 2 K.B. 319; 14 B.W.C.C. 20, and in Parker v. Federal Steam Navigation Co., Ltd. (1925), 18 B.W.C.C. 469. It is of no significance in this regard that disease had rendered the heart incapable of withstanding the shock.

In the case at hand, the cause of death was a fibrillation and impairment of the blood circulation of the heart -- an acute anoxemia of the heart -- due to emotional and nervous shock attending the assault; and this is no less a "personal injury by accident" than if it had ensued from physical impact. Hall v. Doremus, supra. The physiological injury is as certain and definite in the one case as in the other; and the design of the statute plainly is to render compensation for the disability flowing from an accident having the prescribed relation to the employment. Vide Sigley v. Marathon Razor Blade Co., 111 N.J.L. 25.

Concededly, the accident happened in the course of the employment. The workman was engaged in the master's service when the fatal altercation occurred, so much so that negligence in the operation of his vehicle at that time would have been imputable to the master. Auer v. Sinclair Refining Co., 103 N.J.L. 372; Lewis v. National Cash Register Co., 84 Id. 598. He was then proceeding, in obedience to the master's direction, to his area of service as a salesman for the purpose of making a canvass in accordance with specific instructions. The motor ...

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