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Coleman v. Andrew Jergens Co.

Decided: February 17, 1961.


On appeal from Division of Workmen's Compensation.

Masucci, J.c.c.


The respondent appeals from an award to the petitioner on a claim that a heart condition which she suffered arose out of and in the course of her employment with the respondent.

The petitioner filed a cross-appeal from the dismissal of her petition involving the same claim but based on the theory that the same constituted an occupational disease.

In view of the recent holding in the case of Joy v. Florence Pipe Foundry Co. , 64 N.J. Super. 13 (App. Div. 1961), another heart case, that it did not consider its holding therein "a judicial broadening of the legislative categorization of occupational diseases" and of its binding effect on this court, the petitioner's cross-appeal will be dismissed without further consideration and the court will proceed to a consideration of the issues involved in the respondent's appeal.

Petitioner was in the employ of respondent for a period of 15 years to August 15, 1957, the day of her heart attack. She started as a comptometer operator. After ten years in that position, she was assigned to a billing job, which required typing. She continued on said last assignment for about three months when she began having hypertension. She was then transferred to the bookkeeping department and remained in that position for about three months, and was then employed as a bookkeeper and order clerk in respondent's credit department, covering all of the department's credits and the balancing of various departments. During this period other work was assigned to her, such as order clerk work, and the operation of TWX machines for sending and receiving messages to and from respondent's local office and its Cincinnati office. These extra assignments were only given to petitioner from time to time, but during the month of August 1957 she had not been requested to do, nor did she do, any of the extra assignments mentioned.

On the morning of August 15, 1957 she started working at 8 A.M. doing her regular work, as credit analyst in an air conditioned office, which included correspondence in connection with said work. At 10 A.M. she began to balance

her account, a semi-monthly requirement. She took her cards to the adding machine to check if they would balance against her previous month's balance, and found a discrepancy of $20. She claims she felt upset and feared rebuke if the same did not balance by noontime, so she decided to work through her lunch hour until 1 P.M., looking through vouchers, going to the ledger book, and carrying it for a distance of about 50 feet and back to the accounting department. The book weighed 8 1/2 pounds. She stated that the carrying of the book did not bother her. Although she had one of the girls help her, the error was not found.

After returning the book she returned to her desk and then felt terrific pains across her chest, felt faint and told one of the girls. Petitioner was taken to the nurse and then to Columbus Hospital by ambulance, and there found to have suffered a heart condition. She remained in the hospital for a period of three weeks and was then advised by her doctor not to return to work because it was too dangerous and might subject her to too much tension which might cause a recurrence of her heart condition.

Although petitioner admitted that mistakes did happen in various departments, she stated that the failure to balance her books was the first occasion on her part. This statement was contradicted by two or three of her co-workers, who stated that it had happened on other occasions, that there was no immediate time limit for trial balances taken in the middle of the month, and that same could be done and balanced as late as the 20th of the month, said trial balance being only an inter-department balance.

The court could almost take judicial notice of the fact that many trial balances do not balance on the first trial. The court finds that although it is naturally desirous that trial balances come out correct on the first trial, any failure in such respect by a person of normal health would not and should not cause any embarrassment or fear of censure from the superiors. However, we are not considering the reaction of a person of normal health, but a person who was

suffering from hypertension and beset with family problems and fears of insecurity.

The respondent had a "merit rating system" to evaluate its employees on the basis of quality and quantity of work, attitude, tardiness, absenteeism, etc. The rating was appraised semi-annually on the basis of monthly ratings.

It appears that the only demerits the petitioner could or did suffer were on the basis of tardiness, and in spite of same petitioner was successful in obtaining merit increases and promotions ...

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