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Meines v. Hy Levine Associates

Decided: June 28, 1971.


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


[58 NJ Page 549] This is a heart death workmen's compensation case. The Division of Workmen's Compensation dismissed the claim on the ground that petitioner had failed to prove by the preponderance of the evidence that the fatal heart attack was causally related to decedent's work. The County Court found that the requisite causal connection had been established, and it accordingly reversed and remanded for an award of compensation. After further proceedings in the Division for the computation of the judgment, an appeal was taken to the Appellate Division where in an unreported opinion the County Court was reversed and

the Division's dismissal reinstated. This Court granted certification. Meines v. Hy Levine Associates, 58 N.J. 23 (1971).

On December 13, 1965 at about 3 P.M. decedent William Meines, petitioner's husband, suffered his fatal heart attack during the course of his work as a carpenter for respondent. He was 62 years of age at the time. Five years earlier he had an apparently severe heart attack which confined him to bed for six weeks and incapacitated him for work for six months. Nitroglycerin tablets were prescribed and he was instructed by his physician to keep them with him at all times. It is undisputed that these pills are prescribed for persons who suffer from coronary artery disease, particularly angina pectoris. During the ensuing years after his return to work he remained under the care and observation of two doctors, one who was the treating physician and the other who took electrocardiograms. According to Mrs. Meines, her husband was advised to eat fat-free food. Unfortunately both of decedent's doctors died prior to the trial of the case.

On the day of the accident Meines arose at his usual time, around 6:30 A.M., had his breakfast, made no complaints of any kind to his wife, and left for work. At the time, his employer was engaged in remodeling the large old building of the Roback Furniture Company in Paterson, N.J.

Meines began his labors as a carpenter at 8 A.M. He worked on a scaffold six or eight feet above the ground from that time until 12 noon. His task was to nail 18 inch two-by-four studs for purposes of support between eight foot two-by-four studs already in place. A fellow worker on the ground nearby cut the studs to the proper size and placed them on the scaffold thus keeping a constant supply on hand. The partition being worked on was approximately 100 feet long. A number of two and one-half inch nails were hammered into each stud. In hammering the nails, decedent was required to reach from the scaffold and the operation was described by the fellow worker as being more strenuous than some of the carpenters' usual tasks. This worker said also that most

carpenters are more relaxed working on the ground than on a scaffold.

There was no heat of any kind in the building and Meines kept his jacket on while working. According to the local Weather Bureau report (of which we take judicial notice), there were .71 inches of rain during the day, all but .04 inches occurring before 1 P.M. Meines picked up the studs from the scaffold, put them in place and hammered steadily during the four hours from 8 A.M. to 12 noon. There is some indication that in his capacity of shop steward he climbed down from the scaffold on a few occasions to see what other men were doing, then climbed back and resumed working. At any rate the fellow worker testified that no complaints of physical discomfort were voiced by decedent in that period. He had been on one other job with Meines before this day, and based on that experience, albeit limited, he said Meines was a quiet type and not a complainer. That description squares with Mrs. Meines's testimony that her husband did not take the nitroglycerin pills very often; he said that he did not need them.

At noon the men took a half hour lunch break. During that half hour Meines made no complaints, but the fellow worker saw him take a nitroglycerin tablet. At 12:30 the men returned to their tasks and Meines continued the steady hammering until 2:30 when he asked the fellow worker to relieve him so he could go to the men's room. A half-hour later when he had not returned, the associate went looking for him and found him a short distance away slumped over between partitions An ambulance was called but on arrival the doctor pronounced Meines dead. The death certificate gives the cause of death as arteriosclerotic heart disease. Both of the specialists in internal medicine who appeared as experts for the parties at the hearing added that the immediate cause of death was an acute myocardial infarction. The difference between them was that one declared the infarction causally related to the work effort, while the other said it

was due to the natural progress of the underlying coronary arteriosclerosis.

Dr. Rowland D. Goodman, the internal medicine specialist who testified in behalf of petitioner, regarded the lunch-time taking of the nitroglycerin tablet as of crucial significance. He said such pills are prescribed for the relief of angina pectoris pain brought on by coronary artery disease. Patients are instructed to take them when needed, that is, when anginal chest pain develops. They are not taken routinely. It was the doctor's view that when a patient has preexisting arteriosclerotic heart disease to the degree that he requires nitroglycerin and ...

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