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Reynolds v. Public Service Coordinated Transport

Decided: October 3, 1952.


Eastwood, Goldmann and Francis. The opinion of the court was delivered by Francis, J.c.c.


The decedent, Patrick Reynolds, was in the employ of Public Service Coordinated Transport as a bus driver. On July 13, 1950, at about 12:30 P.M., during the course of his work and almost immediately following an accident between the bus he was driving and another car, he collapsed and was taken to the hospital. In a few hours he went into a coma and two days later died, the cause of death being a cerebral hemorrhage.

Appellant, the widow of Reynolds, was awarded workmen's compensation in the Department of Labor and the award was reversed in the County Court.

The issue presented is a very narrow one. Was the cerebral hemorrhage caused by the excitement and emotional strain induced by the collision, or, did the hemorrhage preexist, so as to be the cause of the collision rather than the result thereof? There is no serious dispute in the briefs as to the controlling legal principle. If the greater weight of the evidence dictates an affirmative answer to the first alternative, the right to compensation exists. Hall v. Doremus , 114 N.J.L. 47 (Sup. Ct. 1934); Geltman v. Reliable Linen & Supply Co. , 128 N.J.L. 443 (E. & A. 1942); Geipe, Inc., v. Collett , 172 Md. 165, 190 A. 836, 109 A.L.R. 887 (Ct. App. 1937).

The disparate conclusions reached in the Workmen's Compensation Division and the County Court have led us to make an independent study of the facts.

On July 13, 1950 Reynolds, who was 36 years of age, had been in respondent's employ for three months as a bus driver. The evidence shows that he had been subjected to a pre-employment physical examination; also that, during the 14 years of his married life he had been sick only once and then for three days with a possible appendicitis, which did not actually materialize. On the day of this accident he began work at 4:30 A.M. after a hearty breakfast. He seemed healthy and well and he made no complaints of any kind on leaving home. Some time during his work as a

bus driver he had been involved in an accident as a result of which he was suspended for two days, and apparently warned that another such incident would result in loss of employment. The information respecting the warning appears in the hospital record as part of the history given by him on admission. In a case like this where the inquiry is as to whether an admitted accident caused a mental or emotional strain which in turn resulted in the cerebral hemorrhage, such statements occupy the status of symptoms or complaints. In any event the fact of the warning, while a circumstance, is not decisive or controlling; it serves in some measure as an aid to the confirmation of the judgment we believe is required by the proof, whether or not this additional fact is present.

The bus route pursued by Reynolds on this day was largely on Clinton Avenue, between Irvington Center and the Pennsylvania Railroad station in Newark. About 10:15 A.M., after he had gone up and down this route for about six hours, two of respondent's witnesses, also bus drivers, testified they met him in the Irvington bus terminal. The first, William F. Kutter, came upon him in the men's room washing his hands. At this time he rubbed his forehead with his wet hands and said he had a "slight" headache. (After being shown his statement Kutter asked to have the word "slight" eliminated.) He suggested that Reynolds go out to the coffee stand and get something for it. Reynolds went to the stand and obtained something which he drank from a glass. Kutter stood alongside of him, having coffee, but he did not observe either what was in the glass or the color of it. At this time Reynolds told him also that he had a "little accident" on his trip to Newark when a woman fell on his bus. He had helped her to her feet and she said she was all right. After this conversation Reynolds looked at his watch and it being almost 10:20 A.M., the starting time for another trip, he left the terminal.

The second bus driver, Edward J. Doonan, asserted that he encountered Reynolds outside of the lunch counter at

about 10:20 or 10:25 A.M., at which time Reynolds again referred to the woman's fall on the bus and to his headache. According to Doonan the headache was described as "splitting." This was the sole conversation between them.

In any event, Reynolds boarded his bus and resumed covering his route. About two hours later he was driving east on Clinton Avenue on one of his regular trips when this collision occurred. It was hot at the time, the temperature then being 83 degrees, and Reynolds was observed to mop his brow a couple of times by a passenger who sat opposite him. However, she saw nothing unusual about his physical condition.

Proceeding east on Clinton Avenue at about 12:20 P.M., he came upon an unusual traffic situation. On the right side of the street a car was double-parked; on the left side two cars were double-parked, one in back of the other. The owner of the second double-parked car had stopped in order to drop off some passengers. After doing this, in order to proceed west, it was necessary for him to back up and pull around the car parked in front of him. Before starting to back he observed the eastbound bus on its right side of the street; he then turned his head to look to the rear and "just started to roll back" when the left front of the bus struck the left front and door of his car. The impact was a "pretty heavy" one and his car was pushed back about 30 feet. After the impact the two vehicles were locked together and they held up traffic on the road.

Respondent produced two bus passengers, neither of whom said there was anything unusual about the manner of operation down to the moment before the accident. The bus was not going fast. One passenger said it went to the wrong side of the road because there was a car double-parked which made it necessary for the driver to swing to the left.

Raymond Walsh, whose car was struck, walked over to the bus driver, who was still sitting behind the wheel, and spoke to him. Reynolds looked stunned and shocked, and made no answer. He remained that way for a few seconds, then

got out of his seat, handed out cards to the passengers on the bus and asked them to be witnesses. Following this he alighted and came over to Walsh who was standing at the driver's seat of his car. Reynolds was nervous, excited and shaking all over. They started to exchange licenses and he was dropping the cards and bending down and picking them up. He started to write Walsh's name and address but was unable to finish. A police officer was present at this time and he was talking to both men also, obtaining the facts of the accident. Suddenly Reynolds said he did not feel well, that he had a pain in his head; he became pale and weak and started to ...

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