Adams v. Lead

CourtSupreme Court of Michigan
Citation182 Mich. 157,148 N.W. 485
Decision Date25 July 1914
Docket NumberNo. 336.,336.

182 Mich. 157
148 N.W. 485


No. 336.

Supreme Court of Michigan.

July 25, 1914.

Claim by Sarah E. Adams against the Acme White Lead & Color Works. There was an award by the Industrial Accident Board in favor of plaintiff, and defendant brings certiorari. Reversed.


[148 N.W. 485]

Bowen, Douglas, Eaman & Barbour, of Detroit, for appellant.

Noble T. Lawson, of Detroit, for appellee.


The question involved in this case are raised on certiorari to the Industrial Accident Board. On December 18, 1912, Augustus Adams, a resident of Sandwich, Ontario, began work at the plant of the Acme White Lead & Color Works in the city of Detroit. His duties were those of a sifter or bolter tender in the red lead plant. His work brought him in contract with the lead. On May 29, 1913, he left his work at the quitting time, but that evening became so ill that he was unable to return to work again. He died on June 27, 1913. There is no doubt that the cause of his death was lead poisoning, contracted industrially; i. e., ‘was an occupational disease,’ as the return of the Industrial Accident Board shows. The return states:

‘That during said period between December 18, 1912, and June 27, 1913, one Augustus Adams was in the employ of the Acme White Lead & Color Works; * * * and that during said period, while in the course of said employment, he contracted an occupational disease, to wit, red lead poisoning, upon the premises of the said company, and that on June, 27, 1913, he died as result of said disease.’

The claim of the widow, under Act No. 10 of the Public Acts of the Special Session of 1912, was duly presented to a committee of arbitration and allowed. Thereafter, in accordance with the provisions of said act, the respondent filed with the said board a claim for review of the decision of said committee on arbitration, and later, after a full hearing, the said board made and entered an opinion and order, denying the contention of the respondent, and affirming the award of said arbitration committee. The opinion of the said board, upon which its order was based, so fully presents the questions involved that we cannot do better than to quote therefrom. After referring to the facts above set forth, it is said:

‘These facts are undisputed, and the sole question in the case is whether the Workmen's Compensation Act covers the case of death by lead poisoning arising out of and in the course of the employment. It is contended on behalf of respondent as follows: (1) That lead posioning is not an accident; (2) that Act No. 10, Public Acts of 1912, was not intended to provide compensation for diseases, but only accidents; (3) If the act does apply to industrial diseases, it is so far unconstitutional.

‘It seems to be established under the English cases that lead poisoning is not an accident. It is an occupational disease. It seems to follow from this that, unless the Michigan Workmen's Compensation Law, is broad enough to include an cover occupational diseases, the applicant's claim in this case must be denied. The controlling provision of the act on this point is found in section 1 of part 2, and is as follows: ‘If an employé * * * receives a personal injury arising out of and in the course of his employment,’ he shall be paid compensation, etc. If will be noted that the above language does not limit the right of compensation to such persons as receive personal injuries by accident. The language in this respect is broader than the English act, and clearly includes all personal injuries arising out of and in the course of the employment, whether the same are caused ‘by accident’ or otherwise. It is equally plain that lead poisoning in this case, in fact, constitutes a personal injury, and that such personal injury was of serious and deadly character. The board is therefore of the opinion that the section of the Michigan act is broad enough to cover cases of lead poisoning, especially the one in question.'

The board also reached the conclusion that it would not be justified in holding the part of the act referred to invalid, on constitutional grounds.

By the assignments of error, it is claimed that the board erred: First, in construing the said act so as to provide for the awarding of compensaton for an occupational disease.

[148 N.W. 486]

specifically red lead poisoning; second, in overruling appellant's contention that, if in said act the Legislature intended to provide compensation for an occupational disease, particularly red lead poisoning, said act, in so far as it does so provide, is unconstitutional.

[1] 1. Does the Michigan act include and cover occupational diseases? This is a fair question, and should be fairly answered. What is an ‘occupation,’ or ‘occupational disease’? The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia defines an ‘occupation disease’ as ‘a disease arising from causes incident to the patient's occupation, as lead poisoning among painters.’ In the instant case the undisputed medical evidence shows that lead poisoning does not arise suddenly, but comes only after long exposure. ‘It is a matter of weeks or months or years.’ It is brought about by inhalation, or by the lead coming into the system with food through the alimentary canal, or by absorption through the skin. In any case it is not the result of one contact or a single event. ‘In occupational diseases it is drop by drop, it is little by little, day after day for weeks and months, and finally enough is accumulated to produce symptoms.’ It also appears that lead poisoning is always prevalent in the industries in which lead is used, and a certain percentage of the workmen exposed to it become afflicted with the disease. Elaborate precautions are taken against it in the way of instructions to the men, masks to protect the respiratory organs, etc. Whether the workman will contract it or not will depend upon the physical condition, care, and peculiarity of the individual; and the amount of time it will take to produce ill effects or death also varies.

An ‘accident’ is defined in Black's Law Dictionary as follows:

‘Accident. An unforeseen event, occurring without the will or design of the person whose mere act causes it; an unexpected, unusual, or undesigned occurrence; the effect of an unknown cause, or, the cause being known, an unprecedented consequence of it; a casualty.’

It might be well to keep in mind the conditions sought to be remedied by the diverse workmen's compensation enactments which have been adopted by several of the states of the Union and in foreign countries. The paramount object has been for the enactment of what has been claimed to be more just and humane laws to take the place of the common-law remedy for the compensation of workmen for accidental injuries received in the course of their employment, by the taking away and removal of certain defenses in that class of cases.

In this our own act is not an exception. It first provides that in any action to recover damages for personal injury sustained by an employé in the course of his employment, or for death resulting from personal injuries so sustained, it shall not be a defense: (a) That the employé was negligent unless and except it shall appear that such negligence was willful; (b) that the injury was caused by the negligence of a fellow employé; (c) that the employé had assumed the risks inherent in or incidental to or arising out of his employment, or arising from the failure of the employer to provide and maintain safe premises and suitable appliances.

It is then enacted that the above provisions shall not apply to actions to recover damages for the death of, or for personal injuries sustained by, employés of any employer who has elected, with the approval of the Industrial Accident Board thereinafter created, to pay compensation in the manner and to the extent thereinafter provided. Manifestly, the terms ‘personal injury’ and ‘personal injuries,’ above mentioned, refer to common-law conditions and liabilities, and do not refer to and include occupational diseases, because an employé had no right of action for injury or death due to occupational diseases at common law, but, generally speaking, only accidents, or, rather, accidental injuries, gave a right of action. We are not able to find a single case where an employé has recovered compensation for an occupational disease at common law. Certainly it can be said that in this state no employer has ever been held liable to the employé for injury from an occupational disease, but only for injuries caused by negligence. It seems to us that the whole scheme of this act negatives any liability of the employer for injury resulting from an occupational disease. The title of the act is significant:

‘An act to promote the welfare of the people of this state, relating to the liability of employers for injuries or death sustained by their employés, providing compensation for the accidental injury to, or death of employés, and methods for the payment of the same, establishing an industrial accident board, defining its powers, providing for a review of its awards, making an appropriation to carry out the provisions of this act, and restricting the right to compensation or damages in such cases to such as are provided by this act.’

The first provision defining the employers who are subject to the act is found in section 5, subd. 2, of part 1. It reads:

‘Every person, firm and private corporation, including any service corporation, who has any person in service under any contract of hire, express or implied, oral or written, and who, at or prior to the time of the accident to the employé for...

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