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Adams v. Bryant

March 26, 1954


Appeal from Letcher Circuit Court Honorable S.M. Ward, Judge.

{Q}Opinion{/Q} OF The Court BY Judge STEWART.{Q}Dissent{/Q}ING Opinion BY Chief Justice Sims.


Appellees, Ruby Bryant, Rita Jean Bryant, Rosella Faye Bryant, Billy Ray Bryant and Ernest Bryant, Jr., dependents of Ernest Bryant, Sr., filed an application for Adjustment of Claim against appellants, Henry Adams and Gobel Adams, doing business under the name of "Fire Chief Coal Company," alleging their decedent received an injury in the course of his employment on February 14, 1950, which resulted in his death the following day. The referee of the Board found that decedent's injury was not of a traumatic nature. His opinion was sustained on a review by the full Board. On appeal, this decision was reversed by the Letcher Circuit Court and the Board was directed to enter an award for appellees for such sum as they were entitled to receive under the provisions of Workmen's Compensation Act.

The alleged claim arose out of the following facts: On February 14, 1950, between 2:00 and 2:30 p.m., while four employees, including Ernest Bryant, Sr., were working in appellants' coal mine, a cave-in occurred, trapping Bryant's father-in-law, Worley Dickson, and killing his good friend Dewey Rose. Bryant and the other employee, Paul Dickson, immediately began efforts to rescue the entombed men. They were assisted by several residents of the locality who responded to a call for aid. Word was sent to the Department of Mines and Minerals, but no one from the Department arrived until several hours later. In the meantime appellants directed the work. The rescue operations continued until 4:30 p.m. the next day. Bryant worked inside and outside the mine without any rest whatsoever. At 2:30 p.m. on Friday, as he was leaving the mine, he collapsed. First aid treatment was given immediately by Dr. Bill Adams and Bryant was then placed in a shack near by where he died at about 8:00 p.m.

Dr. Adams, in the death certificate, listed three possible causes of Bryant's death: "(a) Unknown, possibly acute cardiac failure; (b) Possibly shock from a coal mine accident; (c) Possibly due to old chest pathology." He testified that in his opinion Bryant died of overexertion, exposure and nervous shock, and the referee adopted this conclusion in his report. Nor is this evidence disputed by appellants. Appellees contend this type of cause, resulting in the death of Bryant, brings the case within the application of KRS 342.005(1), which reads as follows:

"* * * * It shall affect the liability of the employers subject thereto to their employes for a personal injury sustained by the employe by accident arising out of and in the course of his employment, or for death resulting from such accidental injury; provided, however, that "personal injury by accident' as herein defined shall not include diseases except where the disease is the natural and direct result of a traumatic injury by accident, nor shall it include the results of a pre-existing disease * * * ."

The Board, in adopting the opinion and order of the referee, was of the view that appellees had failed to prove Bryant's death was the proximate result of "a personal injury sustained by the employe by accident" in accordance with the Board's interpretation of the foregoing subsection. It reserved consideration as to whether Bryant's death arose "out of and in the course of his employment." In reaching its result, the Board relied upon Rue v. Kentucky Stone Co., 313 Ky. 568, 232 S.W.2d 843; Coleman Mining Co. v. Wicks, 213 Ky. 134, 280 S.W. 936; and Wallins Creek Collieries Co. v. Williams, 211 Ky. 200, 277 S.W. 234. However, a close examination of these cases reveals that in each one a "disease" was involved. KRS 342.005 specifically provides that where a "disease" is in the picture, a "traumatic injury" must be shown, and, in view of this fact, the above cases can scarcely be considered authority for the proposition that where no disease is present, a traumatic injury nevertheless is required, such as in the case before us. We must therefore decide whether this provision relates to "all" types of injury and not simply to those of traumatic nature which is required where a disease pre-exists.

It may be pointed out that many workmen's compensation laws, unlike ours, contain a specific definition of the word injury. See Schneider, Workmen's Compensation Statutes, Vols. 1-4, Alabama to Wyoming, and the material contained therein. It may also be stated that in the majority of those states where the courts have found themselves unrestrained by legislative definition, shock, exertion and fright resulting in injury or death have been held compensable injuries within the meaning of their compensation laws. See Horovitz, Injury and Death Under Workmen's Compensation Laws, pages 72-75. In Am. Jur., Workmen's Compensation, section 194, page 74, the words "injury" and "personal injury," as used in these acts, are defined as "meaning any lesion or change in the structure of the body, causing harm thereto and a lessened facility of its natural and normal use."

The implication to be drawn from the definition just mentioned is that the word injury, when used without any qualifying words, such as traumatic, is to be given its broadest possible scope. This of course has been done in many forums where compensation has been sought for injury as a result of shock, nervous excitement, exposure and overexertion. In Klein v. Len H. Darling Co., (Mich.) 187 N.W. 401, the deceased dropped a radiator through a hole in the floor and it struck a fellow employee. The deceased suffered shock. His condition became worse and he died two weeks later. It was held that shock in this instance was an "accidental injury." In Guay v. Brown Co., 83 N.H. 392, 142 A. 697, the deceased overexerted himself, collapsed and died. The court, in deciding he suffered a compensable injury, said:

"As stated in some cases, it is no less an accident when a man suddenly breaks down than where there is a like mishap to the machine he is operating. Nor is it a defense that the workman had some predisposing physical weakness, but for which he would not have broken down. If the employment was the cause of the collapse, in the sense that but for the work he was doing it would not have occurred when it did, the injury arises out of the employment."

Also see Stier v. City of Derby, 119 Conn. 44, 174 A. 333, where overexertion and excitement caused death and it was held compensable; Nicholson v. Roundup Coal Mining Co., 79 Mont. 358, 257 Pac. 270, where a miner died of shock as result of change of temperature and it was held compensable; and Burlington Mills Corp. v. Hagood, 177 Va. 204, 13 S.E.2d 291, where an employee suffered shock when a short circuit produced a sudden flash and it was held compensable.

It is the general as well as the Kentucky rule that workmen's compensation acts are to be given a liberal construction and any doubts are to be resolved in favor of the employee. See 58 Am. Jur., supra, section 192, page 703; Hinkle v. Allen-Codell Co., 298 Ky. 102, 182 S.W.2d 20. With this in mind, we are persuaded that the Legislature did not intend to limit injuries in the absence of a disease to only those injuries of a traumatic nature. Furthermore, in view of the authorities heretofore cited, we conclude that shock, overexertion and exposure are personal injuries within the meaning of KRS 342.005(1).

Being of the opinion that the deceased died as a result of a personal injury, we must determine whether such injury was accidental. The Board decided it was not, citing the case of Wallins Creek Collieries Co. v. Williams, 211 Ky. 200, 277 S.W. 234, as an authority for this position. There one Williams was assisting a blacksmith in shoeing a wild mule. Both parties who engaged in this task perspired freely and exerted themselves extensively. Immediately afterwards, Williams complained of being sick and died that night of a heart attack, according to the medical proof introduced. It was the decision of the Board and of the circuit court that Williams' death was attributable solely to a pre-existing disease. On the appeal in this Court we said:

"It is exceedingly doubtful if what happened to the employee, Williams, in this case could be classified as an accident, it being our opinion that it could not; but without determining that question (it not being necessary) it was certainly not a traumatic accident so as to permit the apportioning ...

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