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Abelit v. General Motors Corp.

Decided: October 4, 1957.


Goldmann, Freund and Conford.

Per Curiam

Respondent appeals from an award by the deputy director in the Workmen's Compensation Division of 20% of total permanent disability, affirmed by the County Court. The sole basis for appeal is factual, respondent contending that the weight of the medical testimony clearly proves that petitioner's disability was in no way related to his employment.

The instant claim is one for an occupational condition rather than a sudden trauma or accident. Petitioner suffers from a winging of the right scapula; when he raises his arm beyond a certain point the shoulder blade protrudes from the back, making it impossible for him to elevate his arm without extreme pain. He claims that this condition was caused by the nature of the repetitive movements required in performing his job on defendant's assembly line.

Plaintiff began working for defendant in 1953, and early in 1955 was transferred to the assembly line job. Before that time he had never had an accident or serious illness;

there is no history of prior complaints. Petitioner's new job was to drill holes in the floors of cars for sill plates which were to be screwed thereto in a subsequent operation. He worked only on the right side of the cars, which passed his station at the rate of about one a minute. The procedure followed was as follows: He would take the sill stock from a rack some five feet away; occasionally he had to go a greater distance for it. He then pressed a foot pedal which would put sealer on the bottom of the sill. The next step was to put the sill plate in place on the car, about 12 inches from the ground. While holding the plate with his left hand, and while his body was bent over in about a 90-degree position, he would reach up with his right hand for a quarter-inch electric drill, weighing five to seven pounds. The drill was about on a level with his head but was in a holster, necessitating an upward lift of the right arm to get it out. After pulling the drill out of the holster he would bring his arm down to the forward position for the drilling operation. Holes were already bored in the sill plate, and what petitioner did was to drill through them downward into the floor of the car to a depth of 1/32". The car continued to move during the operation. Petitioner testified that the drill vibrated and he could feel the vibration all over his body.

Petitioner demonstrated this movement several times before the deputy director, who described the movement as involving a "rolling, twisting motion" of the right shoulder.

On March 8, 1956 petitioner went to the plant hospital complaining of a cold, and was given pills. He was also treated by his personal physician, who gave him a shot of penicillin. The cold lasted four or five days. On April 5, 1956 petitioner went to the plant hospital complaining of pain in his right shoulder. This had been preceded some two weeks before by what petitioner described as a numb, "funny" feeling in that area. He received treatment and subsequently, on April 17, went to see his family physician, Dr. Chodosh, who continued to treat him for two months and then sent him to Dr. Wiesenfeld, an orthopedic specialist.

Dr. Wiesenfeld undertook a long series of treatments. Petitioner had to leave his job in April 1956, and at the time of the hearing had not yet returned to it.

It is admitted by all the doctors who testified that petitioner's winged scapula prevents him from raising his arm to full elevation without pain.

Dr. Wiesenfeld testified that his present opinion was that petitioner's condition was caused by minimal but repeated trauma to the long thoracic nerve, these trauma being due to the movements necessitated by petitioner's work. The nerve injury, in turn, caused a paralysis of the serratus anterior muscle served by the nerve and holding the scapula in place. Although he admitted that he did not come to this conclusion originally, he stated that his treatment of petitioner over a long period of time gradually eliminated the possibility of other causes, such as infection, virus, penicillin allergy or polio. He concluded petitioner had paralysis of the long anterior thoracic nerve, and that it was a well-known fact that this type of injury results from trauma in a majority of cases. He traced the course of the nerve, showing its lack of protection in certain places.

On cross-examination Dr. Wiesenfeld emphasized what he had said on direct -- that treatment had improved the range and power of petitioner's shoulder muscles, but not those which moved the scapula. This, in his opinion, substantially ruled out the possibility of other causes. He also said that the possibility of infection as an initiating cause was ruled out because of the lack of involvement of nerves other than the long thoracic nerve. He completely disagreed with the theory that it would take a severe trauma to cause an injury to the nerve. On re-direct examination he iterated that his ...

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