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Renner v. R. L. Tool & Die Co.

Decided: November 16, 1970.


For reversal -- Chief Justice Weintraub and Justices Jacobs, Francis, Proctor, Hall, Schettino and Haneman. For affirmance -- None. The opinion of the court was delivered by Francis, J.


In this case, the petitioner sought compensation for a percentage of permanent disability allegedly resulting from an employment-produced heart attack. The Workmen's Compensation Division found in his favor, but the County Court reversed. The Appellate Division, in an unreported opinion, reversed the County Court and ordered the award of compensation reinstated. This Court granted appellant's petition for certification. 56 N.J. 243 (1970).

Study of the record has led us to the conclusion that the evidence falls far short of showing an employment-related heart attack within the broad boundaries of Dwyer v. Ford Motor Co., 36 N.J. 487 (1962). In Dwyer, the Court, responding to the legislative direction for liberal administration of the Workmen's Compensation Act, went as far as it could reasonably go in recognizing a causal connection between employment stresses and strains and a heart attack. To go any further would be to confer compensability on every heart attack that occurs while the employee is at work. It is for the Legislature and not for the

courts to establish monetary benefits of that nature, beyond those provided by the Temporary Disability Benefits Law, N.J.S.A. 43:21-25, 29, 39.

We adhere to the view propounded in Dwyer that in heart cases the employee has "the burden of showing by the preponderance of the believable evidence that the ordinary work effort or strain in reasonable probability contributed in some material degree to the precipitation, aggravation or acceleration of the existing heart disease * * *." The significance of "some material degree" means an appreciable degree, a degree greater than de minimis. It means that there was some employment stress or strain which was medically capable of and which did cause or contribute in an appreciable degree to the heart attack. Dwyer, supra, 36 N.J. at 493-494, 512. But we cannot find in the record here any evidence which sufficiently satisfies that test to warrant an award of compensation.

The theory on which recovery was sought was that, during the course of his employment, Renner had been subjected to emotional stresses and strains which caused or contributed to the production of a myocardial infarction on November 29, 1965 while he was at work.

Prior to that date, Renner had been in the employ of appellant, R.L. Tool & Die Company, as a tool and die maker for seven years. He had been doing similar work for about 12 years before entering appellant's employment. Most of his activity for appellant was surface grinding on a milling machine. It was a precision operation requiring "a tolerance, in most cases, * * * of one ten thousandth of an inch." Apparently, the tolerances were machine set through the use of micrometers or indicators. The grinding was conducted in a temperature controlled room; the hands of the grinder "cannot be sweaty;" the "piece" cannot be held "too long" because the body temperature may make it larger than "it really is." Renner said in answer to an obviously leading question: "[t]his type of work is under tension." He offered no explanation as to what the answer

meant. Not a single word was said by him indicating that the work made him nervous or upset or caused emotional disturbance or upheaval at any time, or that it interfered with sleeping or eating or his relations with his family, friends or fellow employees.

In describing his relationship with his four fellow employees and his employer, he said:

"Well, it was a friendly one, but not that friendly to be sociable with them too much, and one fellow and I weren't speaking to each other. We were friends for awhile, but for some reason we weren't speaking to each other. The boss wasn't too friendly. At times, he wouldn't even speak, maybe for two weeks at a time, other than just real sharply at what the job concerned."

Further describing the "boss," Renner said he was not a "friendly sort of person. * * * At times, he was a rough type. He would not talk to anybody."

The above is the sum and substance of petitioner's testimony about his work and the environment in which he operated. If he was adversely affected in any way, emotionally, nervously or mentally, he did not say so. Another employee said the boss was "nasty" and subjected the four employees, including Renner, to verbal abuse if they made grinding errors. In explaining what he meant by "nasty" he said the boss got "sort of" excited. And the witness conceded that he too might have gotten excited if a "piece" was ruined after a considerable number of man hours had been put into it; he "imagined" that that would be reasonable. He said the boss yelled at Renner as well as at the other employees at times, but he could not remember the last time this happened prior to November 29, 1965 -- whether it was "a day or two days or 20 days or six months." Furthermore, he conceded that whenever a grinder spoiled a die, the employer absorbed the loss; he did not charge it to the employee. This witness was subjected to much leading questioning in testifying as he did. A dispassionate reading of his examination engenders serious doubt as to the weight

of his testimony. Plainly, he was most interested in furthering Renner's claim. At any rate, even accepting his assertions, it cannot be overlooked that Renner gave no testimony indicating that either his work ...

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