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Cavanaugh v. Murphy Varnish Co.

Decided: May 3, 1943.


On writ of certiorari.

For the prosecutor, George E. Meredith.

For the defendant, David Roskein and John A. Laird.

Before Justices Case and Donges.


The opinion of the court was delivered by

DONGES, J. This writ brings up for review a finding of the Essex County Court of Common Pleas reversing a determination of the Workmen's Compensation Bureau and awarding compensation to the petitioner-defendant. At the time of the hearing (petitioner-defendant has since died) it was the contention of the petitioner that he was totally disabled by reason of a condition of pulmonary tuberculosis and that this condition resulted from his employment by the prosecutor.

It appears that petitioner was given a physical examination by a physician employed by the prosecutor on March 20th, 1937, when he applied for work, and was approved for employment. He commenced to work on March 22d, 1937, and worked for two days and part of a third. His work consisted of loading and unloading a flat truck with cartons containing cans of paint. Some of these cartons were testified to weigh as much as sixty pounds. His testimony was that, while lifting one of these heavy cartons, he felt a pain in the chest and commenced to cough. He walked a few feet away from his truck and suffered a lung hemorrhage in the course of which he spit about a half cup of blood. He was sent to the clinic and there told by a physician to go home and return in a few days. He did so and upon his return was informed that he had tuberculosis. Thereafter he was under treatment for this disease and was unable to work.

Petitioner's testimony was not altogether satisfactory in some respects and was contradicted in some details by other witnesses and by hospital records. Fellow workmen testified to seeing him suffer the hemorrhage but denied that he said anything about strain from lifting. The physician at the clinic denied that he reported any strain or other form of accident. These witnesses said he spoke of having a cold. The testimony of the expert witnesses varied and there was a conflict in their opinion evidence as to the relation between the employment and the condition of the petitioner.

From all the evidence we think it must be found that the following facts are established; that the petitioner, at the time he commenced his employment with prosecutor, was suffering from tuberculosis, either in a dormant or active state -- it makes no difference which for the purposes of this decision; that his work was heavy and laborious; that after approximately two and one-half days of this laborious work, he suffered a lung hemorrhage at his place of work, during his working hours and shortly after loading a truck with cartons; that thereafter he was discovered to be tubercular, became progressively worse and was disabled by the disease.

Two questions present themselves for our determination. First, does the evidence establish that there was a causal relation between the work done by the petitioner and his condition, or does it appear that his condition is the normal one resulting from the progress of the disease entirely unaffected by the work? Second, if there is a causal connection, is the petitioner entitled to compensation if the strain suffered was merely the ordinary, regular strain or exertion incident to the heavy work, or must he show an unusual, out of the ordinary strain in order to recover?

Taking up the first question, we are of the opinion that the finding of the Common Pleas Court is fairly supported by the proofs. Where a man infected with tuberculosis undertakes a job involving heavy lifting and, after two and half days of this work, suffers a hemorrhage while at work, is forced to stop work immediately and report for medical treatment, and thereafter is completely disabled and in need of constant medical attention, we think it is a reasonable and logical conclusion to say that there was a causal connection between the work and the physical condition of the man after he had stopped work. The danger inherent in laborious work to one afflicted with tuberculosis is testified to by the expert witnesses and indeed is well known. Rest is universally regarded as an essential in the treatment of this disease. Heavy work activates ...

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