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Schust v. Wright Aeronautical Corp.

Decided: March 10, 1950.


Jacobs, McGeehan and Eastwood. The opinion of the court was delivered by Eastwood, J.A.D.


The Workmen's Compensation Bureau dismissed plaintiff's claim for compensation for total permanent disability. On appeal, the Bergen County Court affirmed, from which latter judgment plaintiff appeals.

The issue for our determination is whether the multiple sclerosis from which plaintiff suffers was precipitated or aggravated by her accident. We think it should be resolved favorably to plaintiff.

It is conceded that the accident arose out of and during the course of plaintiff's employment. There is a divergence of opinion, however, as to the causal relationship between the accident and plaintiff's disability.

The plaintiff had been in the employ of the defendant as a typist approximately five years prior to her accident, which occurred on November 5, 1946. She was twenty-two years of age when the accident occurred in the following manner: While sitting on her stenographer's swivel chair, performing the normal duties of her employment, she "pushed it back and the chair seemed to be sliding all right and all of a sudden it hit something and it stopped and the next thing I knew, I was on the floor," having fallen on her back or buttocks, toward the left side; that "after I had fallen it seemed to me that there was a bone sticking out of my back." Immediately following the accident, she suffered continuing and injurious physical results, which became progressively worse. Although she continued her employment with the defendant corporation, she was unable to perform the same duties, because of severe headaches, failing eyesight and alleged continual backache running down the back of her legs to her

ankles, but principally the left side more than the right; she was transferred to another position and after several months was compelled to give up all employment. At the time of the hearing before the Bureau, it was conceded that she was permanently and totally disabled.

Prior to the accident, the plaintiff had no knowledge of any impaired physical condition, other than occasional headaches and an eye condition. There is no proof that her headaches were other than those that one normally would suffer. As to her eye condition, she was examined on several occasions by optometrists, who testified that they found no evidence of any organic difficulty. Furthermore, it was undisputed that plaintiff had been employed by the defendant since September 3, 1941; that she had been given a medical examination by the corporation's doctor before she was hired; that during the war years, each week she typed ten hours a day for four days and eight hours a day for three days.

The medical experts conceded at the hearing that the employee was suffering from multiple sclerosis, and the indications were that this condition had been dormant prior to the accident. Unfortunately, here, as in many similar cases, we are confronted with diametrically opposed medical testimony proffered by the respective parties. Plaintiff's medical experts testified that, in their opinion, her total disability is causally related to her accident, while defendant's medical experts testified contrariwise. The plaintiff's medical experts testified that the accident and resultant injury aggravated the latent condition of multiple sclerosis from which plaintiff suffered prior to the accident. The defendant's medical experts testified that multiple sclerosis, particularly in a young person, may develop suddenly and progress rapidly thereafter and that the accident suffered by the plaintiff did not contribute in any respect to the causation of her multiple sclerosis nor to an aggravation thereof.

The medical witnesses were in agreement that multiple sclerosis is a degenerative and incurable disease of the central nervous system, involving the myelin sheaths covering the nerves, characterized by exacerbations and remissions; that

its cause is not definitely known, but it cannot be originated by a blow or physical strain. They were in disagreement as to whether trauma can precipitate or aggravate multiple sclerosis. Those who subscribe to the trauma theory generally agree that the blow must be applied to the spinal cord or brain and of sufficient force to cause the organic nerve damage. In this case, plaintiff's medical experts testified that the trauma suffered by plaintiff did precipitate and aggravate the theretofore dormant multiple sclerosis with which she was afflicted. Defendant's medical experts disputed that conclusion and asserted that plaintiff's injury was merely "A gluteal sprain, which involves blood vessels in the skin" and "has nothing to do with the blood vessels inside of the spinal column."

Circumstances are presented here from which the employee's physical condition prior to the accident revealed only occasional headaches and an eye condition necessitating the use of glasses -- circumstances under which the employee had worked regularly and satisfactorily for approximately five years. Immediately after the accident, the employee suffered sensations of pain and consequent incapacity, as indicated by her testimony and that of her mother, proof of the treatments at defendant's plant hospital, as well as medical and other treatments, during the days and weeks of her ...

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