Bethlehem Steel Co. v. Jones

Decision Date16 March 1960
Docket NumberNo. 161,161
Citation222 Md. 54,158 A.2d 621
PartiesBETHLEHEM STEEL COMPANY v. Ernestine JONES, widow of Walter Scott Jones, deceased.
CourtMaryland Court of Appeals

Jesse Slingluff and Mathias J. DeVito, Baltimore (Piper & Marbury, Baltimore, and Kenneth C. Proctor, Towson, on the brief), for appellant.

Paul J. Feeley, Towson, for appellee.

Before BRUNE, C. J., and HENDERSON, HAMMOND, PRESCOTT and HORNEY, JJ.

BRUNE, Chief Judge.

Bethlehem Steel Company (Bethlehem), Employer and Self-Insurer, appeals from a judgment of the Circuit Court for Baltimore County affirming an award made by the Workmen's Compensation Commission (the Commission) in favor of the appellee, claimant and widow of Walter Scott Jones, because of the death of the latter while in the employ of Bethlehem. The case was heard by the court, sitting without a jury, on the evidence presented before the Commission. The question is the legal sufficiency of the evidence to show that the employee died as a result of an accidental injury arising out of and in the course of his employment.

The case presents no novel question of law. For the claimant to recover there must be legally sufficient evidence to show that the death was due to an accidental cause arising out of and in the course of employment, Robertson v. North American Refractories Co., 169 Md. 187, 189, 181 A. 223; Perdue v. Brittingham, 186 Md. 393, 401-403, 47 A.2d 491, and cases therein cited; and the burden of proof is on the claimant, Hathcock v. Loftin, 179 Md. 676, 679, 22 A.2d 479; Reeves Motor Co. v. Reeves, 204 Md. 576, 579, 105 A.2d 236. Slipping and falling while at work clearly constitute an accident, and injury resulting therefrom is compensable. Townsend Grace Co. v. Ackerman, 158 Md. 34, 148 A. 122. The decision of the Commission is prima facie correct, Code (1957), Art. 101, § 56(c); Stewart & Co. v. Howell, 136 Md. 423, 110 A. 899; and if there is any evidence from which a rational conclusion to support the claim may be drawn the weight and value of that evidence must be left to the trier of the facts, and it is not the function of this Court to determine the comparative weight of conflicting evidence. Stancliff v. H. B. Davis Co., 208 Md. 191, 197, 117 A.2d 577; Reeves Motor Co. v. Reeves, supra. The burden of proof may be sustained by reasonable inferences having a substantial basis in circumstantial evidence where, as in this case, there are no eyewitnesses through whose testimony direct proof of an accidental injury might be furnished. Spencer v. Chesapeake Paperboard Co., 186 Md. 522, 527, 47 A.2d 385; Krell v. Maryland Drydock Co., 184 Md. 428, 41 A.2d 502; Southern Can Co. v. Sachs, 149 Md. 562, 131 A. 760, 43 A.L.R. 417. It is not necessary for the claimant to prove the exact cause of death. S. Rosenbloom, Inc. v. Willingham, 190 Md. 552, 558, 59 A.2d 311. Proof that an accident was the proximate cause of injury or death must show that the result could have been caused by the accident and that no other efficient cause has intervened between the accident and the result; and the proof must rise above a mere guess or speculation. Reeves Motor Co. v. Reeves, supra, 204 Md. at page 581, 105 A.2d 236. On the other hand, absolute certainty in expert medical testimony is not required. Baughman Contracting Co. v. Mellott, 216 Md. 278, 283, 139 A.2d 852; Bethlehem-Sparrows Point Shipyard, Inc. v. Scherpenisse, 187 Md. 375, 383-4, 50 A.2d 256. Cf. Twombley v. Fuller Brush Co., Md., 158 A.2d 110. Whether medical opinion testimony is conclusive or not depends upon the facts of each particular case. Paul Construction Co. v. Powell, 200 Md. 168, 180-181, 88 A.2d 837.

The appellant states as the Maryland rule that 'an injury is accidental only when it results from some unusual strain or exertion or some unusual condition in the employment,' citing Rieger v. Washington Suburban Sanitary Comm., 211 Md. 214, 216, 126 A.2d 598, Kelly-Springfield Tire Co. v. Daniels, 199 Md. 156, 161, 85 A.2d 795. Probably because in the instant case the appellant regards pneumonia as the established cause of death, it fails to refer to the circumstances under which that rule applies--that there be a sudden and unexpected rupture or failure of some portion of the internal structure of the body or the failure of some essential function of the body, even without any external happening of an accidental nature. It does not apply where injury or death results from a fall or a similar accident. See Stancliff v. H. B. Davis Co., supra, 208 Md. at page 199, 117 A.2d 577. In Jackson v. Ferree, 173 Md. 400, 196 A. 107, and in Kelly-Spring-field Tire Co. v. Daniels supra, both cited in Stancliff, it was pointed out (as the reference to these cases in Stancliff shows) that the claimant did not slip or fall. The same was true in the later case of Rieger cited by the appellant. See 211 Md. at page 215, 126 A.2d 598.

There is no dispute about many of the facts in this case. The decedent had been employed by Bethlehem for about thirteen years and had a generally good work and health record. He had had one lobe of his left lung removed by surgery in 1953 following an attack of pneumonia; and he had later sustained an injury and had also had a brief illness, neither of which had any apparent bearing on this case. His job was to shovel limestone out of the bottom of hopper cars placed on a trestle over a bin or pit. To do so, he had to stand with one foot on the sloping bottom of the car and the other on a cross-bar or cross-piece between the two openings through which the limestone was to be unloaded. On the morning of his death, July 7, 1958, he left his home and reported for work in good spirits and in apparently good health. About twenty minutes after he started work that morning he was found lying on top of his shovel on a pile of stone in the bin about thirteen feet below the level of the car in which he had been working. No one saw him from the time he entered the car until he was found in the bin. There was some testimony that he was lying face down on the stones, some that his head was turned to one side. He was taken to the employer's hospital, where he was found dead on arrival. An autopsy was performed later in...

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    ...conditions of the employment, constituting risk peculiar to the work, may establish the causal connection"); Bethlehem Steel Co. v. Jones, 222 Md. 54, 58, 158 A.2d 621, 624 (1960) (After citing, inter alia, Perdue v. Brittingham, supra, Chief Judge Brune for the Court stated: "The appellant......
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