Carter v. General Motors Corp., Chevrolet Gear & Axle Division, 20

Decision Date01 December 1960
Docket NumberNo. 20,20
Citation361 Mich. 577,106 N.W.2d 105
PartiesJames CARTER, Plaintiff and Appellee, v. GENERAL MOTORS CORPORATION, CHEVROLET GEAR & AXLE DIVISION, Defendant and Appellant.
CourtMichigan Supreme Court

Henry M. Hogan, Detroit, for defendant-appellant; G. W. Gloster, E. H. Reynolds, Stuart McCallum, D. A. Knapp, Detroit, of counsel.

Marcus, Kelman, Loria, McCroskey & Finucan, Detroit, for plaintiff-appellee.

Before the Entire Bench.

SOURIS, Justice.

Ordinarily, compensation under our workmen's compensation act 1 is awarded for incapacity to work because of the crushing of a hand or foot, the inhalation of silicotic dust, or other similar injury arising out of and in the course of employment. Benefits are not awarded for the injury as such, but rather for the loss of earning capacity. Hence, even this Michigan Court, years ago, recognized the right of a claimant under the act to compensation for loss of such earning capacity caused by a mental of emotional disability resulting from a physical injury to claimant or even resulting from observing a physical injury to a fellow employee of claimant. In due course we shall examine the authorities so holding, including decisions of this Court made venerable by age and by the compelling logic of their reasoning, for it is upon those past decisions of this Court that our decision in this case is firmly planted. Our, decision is that workmen's compensation benefits are payable for incapacity to work because of a claimant's paranoid schizophrenia arising out of and in the course of employment.

Plaintiff had worked as a machine operator for defendant, general Motore Corporation, with intermittent layoffs, since 1953. On October 8, 1956 he was recalled to work after a 5-month layoff and worked for 5 days on a 'brace job' and then was transferred on October 12th to a 'hub job'. This operation required him to take a hub assembly (consisting of a case and cover) from a nearby fellow employee's table to his own workbench, remove burrs with a file and grind out holes in the assembly with a drill, and place the assembly on a conveyor belt. Plaintiff was unable to keep up with the pace of the job unless he took 2 assemblies at a time to his workbench, and he feared another layoff should he prove unable satisfactorily to do the work. He was instructed repeatedly by his foreman not to take 2 assemblies at a time because the assembly parts became mixed up on the conveyor belt when he did so. However, plaintiff continued having trouble 'getting on to the job' as it was supposed to be performed. Thus, when he took only 1 hub assembly at a time, he fell behind; when he fell behind, he took 2 assemblies; but, when he took 2 assemblies, he got the assemblies mixed up and was berated by the foreman.

We are told that the dilemma in which plaintiff found himself resulted on October 24, 1956 in an emotional collapse variously described as paranoid schizophrenia and schizophrenic reaction residual type. He was subsequently hospitalized for a period of 1 month, during which time he received shock therapy. In July of 1957, he filed an application for hearing and adjustment of claim for compensation under the workmen's compensation act.

It should be noted that there is not involved in this case a psychosis resulting from a singly fortuitous event no is there involved a psychosis resulting from a direct physical blow to plaintiff's body. Instead, there is involved a psychosis claimed to be the result of emotional pressures encountered by plaintiff daily in the performance of his work.

The referee entered an award of workmen's compensation for a disability described as 'traumatic neurosis, traumatic psychosis, functional disability and sequelae thereof'. The workmen's compensation appeal board, by a divided vote, affirmed the award for total disability from October 24, 1956 until January 7, 1957, plus reimbursement for medical and hospital care. The appeal board, in addition, allowed to plaintiff continuing compensation from and after January 7, 1957.

Pertinent quotations from the 3 opinions filed by members of the appeal board follow:

1) Chairman McLaughlin:

'* * * Plaintiff sustained a personal injury arising out of and in the course of employment and due to causes and conditions characteristic of and peculiar to the business of his employer. * * * As the result of the injury plaintiff has been totally disabled since October 24, 1956 from doing the work he was performing for defendant prior to that date. Plaintiff cannot safely be subjected to pressures or strains. He is not able to perform work which is highly competitive or requires a certain production rate. Plaintiff is and has been since October 24, 1956 disabled from earning full wages at the work in which he was last subjected to the conditions resulting in disability.'

2) Member Storie:

'* * * The disability is due to an aggravation of a pre-existing condition by more than one nonfortuitous event. I hold that disability is compensable under the provisions of Part II of the Workmen's Compensation Act and concur with Chairman McLaughlin in granting compensation. * * *'

3) Member Ryan:

'* * * I do not agree that the plaintiff's disability is due to causes and conditions characteristic of and peculiar to the defendant's business.

* * *

* * *

'There is nothing in this case identifiable as an occupational risk.

'The job was a simple job and the foreman's instructions were even simpler. Nothing more emanated from the employment.

'The disability arose out of the plaintiff's own feelings and misapprehension and from within himself completely.'

The order of the appeal board is attacked, among other reasons, because no 2 members of the 3-member board found plaintiff's disability compensable under the same section of the act. Nevertheless, the decision of 2 of the 3 members of the board was that plaintiff suffered a compensable injury. Section 11 of Chapter IA of the act creating the workmen's compensation appeal board (C.L.S.1956, § 408.11 [Stat.Ann.1959 Cum.Supp. § 17.6(17)]) provides that the 'decision of a majority of the board shall be the decision of the board'. It is not unusual for members of a body performing a judicial function to arrive at the same conclusion via diverse reasoning. See, for example, Samels v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., 317 Mich. 149, 26 N.W.2d 742, where 6 justices of this Court voted to affirm an award of compensation, 3 justices grounding their decision on part 2 and 3 justices on part 7. The decision of the board is within the statutory mandate.

However, in order to uphold the board's decision awarding any compensation, this Court must be satisfied, first, that there is competent evidence to uphold the finding of causal connection made by a majority of the board, and second, that plaintiff suffered a disability which is compensable under the act.

At to the first point, the only medical testimony offered is that of the treating physician. He testified as follows:

'* * * the patient saw himself as in an impossible situation in which he couldn't win. He couldn't please the foreman operating the machine in his job the way he was. If he attempted to do it the foreman's way he would fall behind in his work and the men on the line would complain and the foreman would get after him for this. So he really felt himself caught in an impossible situation which had no solution.

* * *

* * *

'My feeling is that Mr. Carter showed some evidence of instability earlier in his life. Namely, this episode in the service when he went AWOL relatively frequently and was discharged for that reason. That apparently subsequent to this he was able to make a fairly satisfactory adjustment, but that he managed to avoid situations wherein he felt trapped. For instance, he mentioned that on his construction job he was all over, that he worked in many different places. And apparently in his experience with General Motors, too, he was never on a job where he felt he could not meet the demands of the job. Now, I feel that here we had an unhappy combination of circumstances, that after a period of a layoff the man comes into a new job which for somebody, I think with the relative inflexibility of personality that this man had, required some adaptation. So that already he was working in a new position with which he was not familiar and he found himself in a--as I believe I described it before, in what to him was an impossible situation. Namely, that he could not meet the foreman's demands and stay on the work and doing it the way the foreman wanted him to do, and on the other hand, if he did keep up, then his job was threatened in that fashion. So that he actually felt that the job which he had described to his wife as liking very much was threatened in either way. We frequently see a situation of this type where the person feels himself trapped in a situation that has no solution, at least to them, precipitating a schizophrenic breakdown. And I think the indications are that this is what occurred here.

* * *

* * *

'* * * I think that he has had the personality predisposition towards the development of this illness for a number of years. This is what usually happens, but then this is the straw that breaks the camel's back, and they develop the actual psychosis in which they are out of touch with reality. Now, we have no reason to believe that he was before out of touch with reality.'

This was competent expert opinion testimony, upon which the board could and did base a finding of causal connection. Such a factual determination is binding upon this Court, there being competent evidence to support it. McVicar v. Harper Hospital, 313 Mich. 48, 20 N.W.2d 806; Redfern v. Sparks-Withington Co., 353 Mich. 286, 91 N.W.2d 516, and C.L.1948, § 413.12 (Stat.Ann.1950 Rev. § 17.186). It may be noted that the defendant offered no medical testimony to rebut that given in behalf of claimant by Dr. Lawrence P....

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