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Stafford v. Pabco Products Inc.

Decided: December 29, 1958.

RUTH STAFFORD, PETITIONER-RESPONDENT,
v.
PABCO PRODUCTS, INC., RESPONDENT-APPELLANT, AND CLARK STAFFORD, PETITIONER-RESPONDENT, V. PABCO PRODUCTS, INC., RESPONDENT-APPELLANT, AND UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, INTERVENOR



Conford, Freund and Haneman. The opinion of the court was delivered by Freund, J.A.D.

Freund

The issue here is whether or not the appellant-employer, Pabco Products, Inc., is required to reimburse the United States Government for medical and hospital services rendered by the United States Veterans' Administration Hospital in East Orange to Clark Stafford, appellant's injured employee. Pabco appeals from a judgment of the Middlesex County Court, affirming the determination of the workmen's compensation Deputy Director that it is so required.

The facts are undisputed and have been submitted to us under an agreed statement. The original claim petitioner, Clark Stafford, 50 years of age, had worked 4 1/2 years for Pabco Products in the manufacture of linoleum. On January 26, 1956 he tried to open a large door in the drying room by pushing it with his right leg, and while doing so he felt a "pop" or "snap" in his right upper thigh, accompanied by pain and the later appearance of a lump in that area. The lump was eventually diagnosed as a liposarcoma. Stafford was treated at the Perth Amboy General Hospital and then transferred to the Veterans' Hospital, where he died from that condition on January 21, 1957. The $6,542 bill of the latter institution is conceded to be reasonable.

The Workmen's Compensation Division determined that the accident had aggravated and accelerated a pre-existing liposarcoma requiring his hospitalization and causing his death. Stafford was awarded temporary compensation to the date of his death, and his widow was awarded death benefits. In further ordering the employer to pay all the medical expenses incurred in the treatment of the decedent, including the bill of the Veterans' Hospital, the Deputy Director said:

"The respondent denies liability for this bill, on the grounds that the Veteran's Hospital rendered these services gratuitously to the petitioner as a non-Service obligation. I do not agree with the conclusion that the Veteran's Administration should not be reimbursed by the respondent. There is no plausible reason why the Federal Government should assume and take over the expenses for the treatment of the decedent and thereby relieve the respondent of its legal obligation in the premises. The Veteran's Hospital rendered its service to the decedent in good faith and there is no reason why the taxpayers should be burdened with the costs rendered to the decedent as the result of a compensable accidental occurrence. To agree with [Pabco] would be against public policy and would react as a deterrent to the Veteran's Administration in giving similar services to veterans who need hospitalization and whose employer adamantly refuses to recognize its legal responsibility. * * *"

The County Court in its affirmance added:

"* * * Insofar as the deceased himself was concerned, he was given free hospitalization as part of his reward for having served his country rather than something for the benefit of an employer on whom is placed the primary obligation to furnish the injured workman necessary medical and hospital care. R.S. 34:15-15. If the decedent had selected a private hospital the respondent would certainly recognize the bill of the institution. * * *"

The statute creating the employer's liability for the medical and hospital services of an injured employee is R.S. 34:15-15, which reads in part:

"The employer shall furnish to the injured workman such medical, surgical and other treatment, and hospital service as shall be necessary to cure and relieve the workman of the effects of the injury and to restore the functions of the injured member or organ where such restoration is possible; * * *

If the employer shall refuse or neglect to comply with the foregoing provisions of this section the employee may secure such treatment

and services as may be necessary and as may come within the terms of this section, and the employer shall be ...


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