For the petitioner-respondent, Harold Krieger (Abraham J. Slurzberg, of counsel).
For the respondent-prosecutor, Gerald T. Foley.
Before Justices Bodine, Heher and Wachenfeld.
The opinion of the court was delivered by
WACHENFELD, J. In this case we must make an independent determination pursuant to R.S. 2:81-8 and R.S. 34:15-66 whether there was an "accident" within the provisions of the Workmen's Compensation Act and whether there was a causal relationship between such accident, if so found, and subsequent death. The allowance of counsel fees is also contested as excessive.
Respondent's husband, thirty-six years of age, had been employed by the prosecutor for five or six years as an assistant engineer. On August 30th, 1943, shortly before noon he was seen preparing to cut a steel hoisting cable about 36 feet long and 5/8 inch in diameter. He placed the cable cross an anvil on the floor and while kneeling he started to strike a chisel against the cable with a machinist's hammer weighing about
a pound and a half. This pounding continued a short while. He was next seen three minutes later lying on the floor, doubled up, gasping, his eyes rolling, and his eyes and mouth working. The chisel and hammer were at his side and the cable was partially cut. He died en route to the hospital.
An autopsy revealed death was due to "chronic aortitis, aortic aneurysm rupturing into pericardium, hemopericardium." Medical experts relying on the report explained a long-standing disease had degenerated and weakened the aorta, a large blood vessel which at a point less than one inch from the heart had expanded into a bulge and burst. Previously decedent apparently had always been in good health.
The nature of decedent's employment is not shown except that he performed all the usual duties about the engineering room. The chief engineer employed by the prosecutor described the work of cutting steel cables "a laborer's job * * * it is difficult * * * requires effort * * * it's hard steel * * * it cuts hard" and added it normally takes from three to five minutes to cut through. A medical expert for the respondent on hypothetical question and from personal familiarity with the effort incidental to cutting with chisels and hammers testified the exertion of cutting the cable was the precipitating cause of the bursting of the blood vessel and subsequent death.
Prosecutor contended the hammer used was not heavy and that a person sixty-nine years old could cut such steel cables without becoming tired. Its medical witness testified the effort expended by decedent was not the producing cause of the injury and death. Since death could have occurred spontaneously due to the weakened condition of the artery, he concluded decedent's work was not the producing cause of death. He conceded physical exertion increased blood pressure, which in turn would have a definite part in causing a rupture.
The Bureau found that death was due to pre-existing illness and not an accident, but the Pleas reversed, holding the work in which decedent was engaged at the time was the precipitating cause of death. After an examination of the ...