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Becker v. City of Union City

Decided: January 4, 1952.


McGeehan, Jayne, and Wm. J. Brennan, Jr. The opinion of the court was delivered by Jayne, J.A.D.


There appears to be a somewhat persistent endeavor on behalf of claimants to induce us either to displace or materially to liberalize the application of the existing principle of law relative to the so-called "heart cases" prosecuted in pursuance of the terms and provisions of the Workmen's Compensation Act, R.S. 34:15-7 et seq.

It is the peculiar genius and strength of the law that no decision is stare decisis when it has lost its usefulness in our social evolution. However, one should not be incorrigible in the performance of judicial service. There are certain commandments in the law which must be heeded and respected. Among them is that proclaimed by Chancellor Kent: "When a decision upon a point of law has been made upon solemn argument and upon mature deliberation, the community have a right to regard it as a just declaration or exposition of the law, and to regulate their actions by it." Despite man's modern propensity for innovations, that rule of judicial action has continued to retain its prestige.

"Although it has been said that a precedent embalms a principle, and although I do not assent to the proposition that our courts must abjectly submit to an unqualified enslavement

and subserviency to early precedents, yet it would be disastrous frequently to have one law on the same subject in the morning and another at night." Creasey v. Zink , 140 N.J. Eq. 111 (Prerog. Ct. 1947).

Assuredly, the existing state of our decisional law applicable to the consideration of such cases is expressed in Lohndorf v. Peper Bros. Paint Co. , 134 N.J.L. 156 (Sup. Ct. 1946), affirmed 135 N.J.L. 352 (E. & A. 1947); Grassgreen v. Ridgeley Sportswear Mfg. Co. , 2 N.J. Super. 62 (App. Div. 1949), cert. den. 1 N.J. 603 (1949); Temple v. Storch Trucking Co. , 2 N.J. Super. 146 (App. Div. 1949), affirmed 3 N.J. 42 (1949); and Seiken v. Todd Dry Dock, Inc. , 2 N.J. 469 (1949), in which it was stated that: "A review of the cases decided since the Lohndorf case, supra , shows a general adherence to the view therein expressed * * *" The verity of that remark is exhibited by the decisions in Gaudette v. Miller , 1 N.J. Super. 145 (App. Div. 1948); Carpenter v. Calco Chemical Div., Amer. Cyanamid Co. , 4 N.J. Super. 53 (App. Div. 1949); Franko v. Mack Manufacturing Corp. , 5 N.J. Super. 1 (App. Div. 1949); Schroeder v. Arthur Sales Co., Inc. , 5 N.J. Super. 287 (App. Div. 1949), affirmed 4 N.J. 116 (1950); Gorelick v. Paramount Slipper Co., Inc. , 5 N.J. Super. 406 (App. Div. 1949); Franklin v. U.S. Bronze Powder Works , 6 N.J. Super. 320 (App. Div. 1950); Hoffman v. Krause , 8 N.J. Super. 163 (App. Div. 1950); Martin v. Western Electric Co., Inc. , 9 N.J. Super. 89 (App. Div. 1950); Gagliano v. Botany Worsted Mills , 13 N.J. Super. 1 (App. Div. 1951).

An acquaintance with the above cited decisions will reveal that the following principles are firmly sustained in our law:

1. The statutory prerequisites to establish a compensable injury by accident under R.S. 34:15-7 are that the alleged accident arose not only (a) in the course of employment, but also (b) out of the employment. Consult also Hall v. Doremus , 114 N.J.L. 47 (Sup. Ct. 1934); Beh v.

Breeze Corporation , 2 N.J. 279 (1949). The words "accident" and "employment" as utilized in the statute are not synonymous. Therefore proof of the fact that injury or death occurred during the course of work does not of itself entitle one to the benefits of that legislation. It must additionally be made to appear that the mishap arose out of the employment. Basically it must be recognized that the statute does not constitute an employer a plenary and unconditional insurer of the health and life of his employees.

2. The burden descends upon the claimant to prove those essential and indispensable elements of his or her claim by a preponderance of the evidence. Parker v. John A. Roebling's Sons Co. , 135 N.J.L. 440 (Sup. Ct. 1947), affirmed 136 N.J.L. 635 (E. & A. 1948). This may be accomplished by proof of a circumstantial character which preponderates in favor of the tendered hypothesis by supporting a rational inference founded upon a comparative superiority of probabilities according to the common experience of mankind. Gilbert v. Gilbert Machine Works, Inc. , 122 N.J.L. 533 (Sup. Ct. 1939). This burden of proof necessarily embraces the obligation to disclose that the injury sustained by the employee was the proximate result of an accident within the import of the statute. The proof, however, is not required to eliminate all doubt. Ames v. Sheffield Farms Company , 1 N.J. 11 (1948). It is not a valid defense to show that the death could possibly have occurred from natural causes. Probabilities, not possibilities, must control the factual conclusion. Sunkimat v. Senger Coal & Ice Corp. , 137 N.J.L. 103 (Sup. Ct. 1948).

3. While it is not necessary that an accidental injury must in order to be compensable be the result of traumatic force, yet an injury, even though fatal, suffered in the course of employment but arising solely from natural causes wholly unrelated to an industrial mishap is not compensable. Common observation and experience have instructed us that there are classes of bodily disabilities which are normally due to pathological causes and more rarely attributable to traumatic

misfortunes and so, for example, there is the initial inference that heart failure is the consequence of natural physiological changes. In Joseph Dixon Crucible Co. v. Law , 135 N.J.L. 528 (1947), the former Supreme Court expressed the admonition: "It is requisite that in workmen's compensation cases grounding in alleged heart injuries the evidence be carefully scrutinized and ...

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