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Hagerman v. Lewis Lumber Co.

Decided: December 24, 1952.

MARION E. HAGERMAN, EXECUTRIX OF THE ESTATE OF JOSEPH PERRINE HAGERMAN, DECEASED, AND MARION E. HAGERMAN, INDIVIDUALLY, PETITIONER-RESPONDENT,
v.
LEWIS LUMBER CO., RESPONDENT-APPELLANT. MARION E. HAGERMAN, PETITIONER-RESPONDENT, V. LEWIS LUMBER CO., RESPONDENT-APPELLANT



Freund, Stanton and Conlon. The opinion of the court was delivered by Stanton, J.s.c. (temporarily assigned).

Stanton

Joseph P. Hagerman sustained a compensable accident on May 3, 1945 while in the employ of Lewis Lumber Co., the respondent-appellant and hereinafter referred to as the respondent. On December 28, 1946 there was an award in the Workmen's Compensation Bureau, inter alia , of compensation based upon 35% of permanent total disability. The injury was of a cardiac nature. The award was paid in full as of November 18, 1948. Hagerman died on May 14, 1949. On June 23, 1949 his widow, as executrix of his estate and in her individual capacity, filed a petition for further compensation because of his increased disability and another, as his widow, in which she alleged that the death was due to the compensable accident and sought compensation as his sole dependent.

There was a determination in the Workmen's Compensation Division that Hagerman was totally and permanently disabled prior to his death and that as of the time of death he was entitled to 400 weeks compensation less what had been paid during the period of 175 weeks. There was a further finding that since the death was due to the accident, the payment for disability would terminate as of the date of death. The net result was that compensation for a period of 25-3/7 weeks was awarded to his estate.

There was also an award of compensation to the widow based upon the conclusion that the death was causally related to the accident.

There were appeals from these determinations to the County Court where they were affirmed. The employer now appeals from the judgments of the County Court.

It is contended that the Workmen's Compensation Division had no jurisdiction to entertain the petition of the decedent's personal representative for compensation for increased

disability. R.S. 34:15-27 provides in part as follows:

"* * * A formal award, determination and rule for judgment or order approving settlement may be reviewed within two years from the date when the injured person last received a payment, upon the application of either party on the ground that the incapacity of the injured employee has subsequently increased. An award, determination and rule for judgment or order approving settlement may be reviewed at any time on the ground that the disability has diminished. In such case the provisions of section 34:15-19 of this Title with reference to medical examination shall apply."

While it is conceded that the decedent had the right to make such a claim under this section within two years of November 18, 1948, it is urged that because of his failure to do so in his lifetime there was an abatement upon his death; and that such failure deprived the respondent of its right to make the physical examinations to which it is entitled under R.S. 34:15-19. It is argued that this latter statutory provision implies that compensation for increased permanent disability may be awarded only when the injured employee applies for it in his lifetime and that the respondent was prejudiced by the lack of an examination in the period for which increased disability is claimed. There is no statutory provision expressly granting the personal representative the right to make an application such as this. And the statute quoted above literally limits the making of an application for a review of an award to either of the parties. Reference is made by the executrix to King v. Western Electric Co. , 122 N.J.L. 442 (Sup. Ct. 1939), wherein the right of the personal representative of a deceased employee to prosecute the proceeding which the employee had commenced for compensation due to increased disability was recognized. This case merely affirmed the right of the personal representative to continue the prosecution of such a proceeding; it did not consider his right to initiate one. It is our conclusion that the Workmen's Compensation Division lacked the jurisdiction to entertain the personal representative's petition for compensation based

upon the increased disability of the decedent for the reason that she was not a party to the award sought to be reviewed. Cf. Lusczy v. Seaboard By-Products Co. , 101 N.J.L. 170 (E. & A. 1925).

The respondent contends that the widow failed to sustain the burden of establishing that her husband's death was causally related to the accident. It urges that her claim for compensation flows directly to her under the statute and does not come to her as the representative of her deceased husband, citing Lusczy v. Seaboard By-Products Co., supra , and Eckert v. N.J. State Highway Department , 1 N.J. 474 (1949), and that the adjudication by the Workmen's Compensation Bureau in December 1946 that her husband sustained a compensable accident, is not res adjudicata in her proceeding as a dependent but only with respect to the claim of the employee himself. There is no merit in this. There is only one accident involved here, namely that of May 3, 1945, and it was determined that it was a compensable one and that the respondent was liable for the payment of compensation to Hagerman under the statute. That was not questioned and the award was paid. There are varying benefits to different persons under the statute where there is a compensable accident, for example, for temporary as well as permanent disability to the employee, as well as for a subsequent increase of incapacity; then there is the right to medical and hospital services; when death results the employee's dependents are entitled to compensation, and there is an allowance for funeral expenses. The statute has been long recognized as a remedial one which should be liberally construed. The accident is either a compensable one, or it is not. If in a ...


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