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Stehli v. Stehli

Decided: June 23, 1960.


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


The employer appeals from a judgment of the Union County Court reversing an order of dismissal entered by the Deputy Director in the Division of Workmen's Compensation.

The petitioner's deceased husband, John H. Stehli, 63 years of age, was employed by the respondent as an electrician. On June 23, 1955 he had an automobile accident while on his way home after performing certain electrical work for respondent's customer. He died the following morning. The issues are whether the decedent's death was caused or contributed to by the accident and, if so, whether the accident arose out of and in the course of his employment.

Decedent was employed by respondents, John L. Stehli and Stephen M. Cox, trading as Swanson & Stehli. At the time of the accident he was receiving $2 an hour for an 8-hour day. Prior to June 3, 1955 the decedent had been

paid $1.75 an hour plus an additional amount for gas and maintenance expenses incurred in the use of his vehicle. The testimony of the respondent discloses that the increase in straight salary of $.25 an hour or $10 a week, occurring three weeks before his death, was actually to compensate the decedent for the use of his automobile and to include payment for traveling "to and from the job," but not for travel time. It was customary for decedent to carry equipment in his automobile, consisting of tools, material and wire, to be used on the job. Decedent's going directly from his home to a job site with the necessary material was beneficial to the firm and made it unnecessary to send another man to the job to deliver the material. At the end of the day, decedent would go directly to his home in Hightstown, N.J., rather than to respondent's place of business in Newark.

On June 23, 1955 he had performed certain electrical work at the home of Jan Krimowicz in Irvington, where he had been working for several days. On the last day he arrived at the Krimowicz premises at approximately 8:15 A.M. and installed a meter board used in the installation of an electrical service. He continued his work until about 4:15 P.M., when he left for home. While driving along Highway 28 in Cranford, N.J., at about 4:45 P.M., he collided with the rear of a street sweeper. A police officer at the scene of the accident observed that decedent was standing beside his damaged car and was "reasonably upset * * * nervous, or shaken." He observed that decedent's automobile sustained damages to its front, radiator, grill and bumper. The police officer testified that the decedent refused medical care. The car was towed away and decedent was taken to police headquarters.

As the result of a telephone call, decedent's daughter and her husband drove to Cranford and found him sitting on a box at a gas station. He was pale and shaken and was "holding his arm against his stomach." On the way to decedent's home "he sat in the back and then laid down all the rest of the way." They arrived at about 7:00 or

7:30 P.M. He was met by his wife, Barbara, who testified that he "looked very pale and nervous," and he was holding his stomach and back. He went into the living room and lay on the couch, and did not eat dinner that night. His wife and other members of the family rubbed his back and stomach. At about 6:30 the next morning he was very nervous, and his face alternately flushed and paled. The pain was severe and he continued to hold himself while he went to the bathroom, where he fell on the floor. His wife suggested calling a doctor, but he refused. She applied icepacks to his head, but he passed away.

An autopsy, performed five hours after death, disclosed that decedent suffered from an "acute coronary insufficiency" with evidence of a "recent myocardial infarction" and "fibrinous pericarditis." The examination also revealed a small flesh abrasion over the upper left lumbar area.

Decedent's wife stated that previous to his accident and for over 30 years of their married life he was in good health and normally not a sick man. Decedent had always been actively employed at hard work, having been a farmer, sheet metal worker and, for 25 years preceding his death, an electrician. When he left for work on the morning of June 23, she saw her husband put tools and other electrical appliances belonging to their son into his automobile.

The medical proofs are in dispute. Dr. Walter Nudelman, a specialist in internal medicine and cardiology, testified on behalf of the petitioner, and in ...

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