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Lanier v. Kieckhefer-Eddy Division of Weyerhaeuser Timber Co.

Decided: June 24, 1964.


Gaulkin, Lewis and Labrecque. The opinion of the court was delivered by Lewis, J.A.D.


This is a workmen's compensation case which involves the application of the "humane instincts" doctrine. The judge of compensation dismissed the petition of Sarah G. Lanier for dependency benefits for herself and minor child as the result of the death of her husband A. V. Lanier (hereafter Lanier). On review by the County Court a judgment of reversal and remand was entered. Lanier's employer appeals.

The crucial facts are not in dispute; they were adduced from the testimony of William Clements, a fellow employee. No medical evidence was proffered. The opposing conclusions reached by the Division and the County Court respectively stem from the discordant inferences drawn from the uncontroverted facts.

Appellant was engaged in the business of manufacturing paper and paper products. At its factory in Delair, a two-bed hospital was maintained with a full-time nurse on duty. About two miles away, the company operated its Merchantville plant (employing approximately 125 persons) where paper milk bottles were manufactured. First aid at the latter location was handled by an employee staff committee, and Clements, a maintenance machinist, was the "first aid man" in charge of the emergency supplies. His training was through a volunteer fire company with which he had been connected, and an advanced course given by the American Red Cross. In case of need, a station wagon was available for transportation from Merchantville to the dispensary at Delair.

On November 9, 1959 Lanier was working in the printing department of the Merchantville plant when, at about 2 P.M.,

Clements was requested by a workman to see what was the matter with Lanier. Lanier was found "standing on his feet leaning against one of the rolls of paper and just staring with no apparent reason, just standing there." Upon being spoken to, he made no reply and gave no sign of recognition. With assistance he was "walked" 40 to 50 feet to the locker room; George Mason (a foreman) and Clements held on to him because they feared he might fall. They seated him on a bench and sent for his foreman, Earl Cox, who on arrival endeavored to talk with Lanier but, likewise was unable to obtain any recognition or response. Lanier just "mumbled," then "more or less" started to answer questions. After deciding that the stricken employee should be taken to the dispensary at Delair, Clements and Cox aided him in walking approximately 15 feet to his locker. Clements said:

"I still thought there is a possibility he might fall * * * I opened his locker and I got his jacket * * * he said, 'I can put it on.' His voice was mumbly and heavy, but I assumed he had his faculties about him and I let him go ahead."

The foremen departed from the locker room, and Lanier was left standing, unattended, in front of his locker where no seat or bench was available. Another employee, Joe Suty, was in the area but he was not within reach. Clements proceeded to his locker which was beyond his view of Lanier. Clements further testified:

"I got my jacket, started back to him; I was about 15 feet from him and looked at him. He was staring at the ceiling and just turning his head, looking up at the ceiling, and I thought -- well, this is what I had been more or less thinking was going to happen. I ran over to him and grabbed him. Just as I was grabbing him, his body was rigid but it was trembling. Just as I got to him, he fell."

When Lanier fell his entire body was in "hard contact" with the tile floor. Blood appeared under his head, and he was frothing at the mouth. An ambulance was summoned, and Lanier was taken to the Cooper Hospital in Camden where he died a few days later.

Petitioner produced a death certificate identifying the cause of death as "Sub. Arachnoid Hemorrhage." The hospital records were also admitted in evidence, and they indicated a diagnosis of "traumatic subarachnoid hemorrhage," with complicating "acute brain syndrome, alcoholic intoxication," and accompanying "lacerations and contusions of scalp." Additionally, petitioner's proofs included the records of the same institution relating to decedent's hospitalization as the result of an accident during the previous year (December 29, ...

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