Hannah v. Mallinckrodt, Inc.

Decision Date26 April 1982
Docket NumberNo. 62325,62325
Citation633 S.W.2d 723
PartiesJames HANNAH and Marsha Hannah, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. MALLINCKRODT, INC., Defendant-Respondent.
CourtMissouri Supreme Court

Milton L. Schwarz, Klamen & Danna, Clayton, for plaintiffs-appellants.

Ben Ely, Jr., Phillip A. Franklin, St. Louis, for defendant-respondent.

ALDEN A. STOCKARD, Special Judge.

Plaintiff, James Hannah, filed a common law negligence action against his employer, Mallinckrodt, Inc. (hereafter Mallinckrodt), for injuries sustained in the course of his employment which he contends was not the result of an accident within the meaning of § 287.020.2 RSMo 1978. The trial court directed a verdict for Mallinckrodt and on appeal the Missouri Court of Appeals affirmed. On application of plaintiff the case was transferred to this court. We review the case as an original appeal. Mo.Const.Art. V, § 10; Rule 83.09.

The substance of plaintiff's petition is that Mallinckrodt failed to provide a safe place to work, safe methods of work, and safe appliances with which to work. His wife joined in a separate count for loss of consortium. The decisive issue before us is whether plaintiffs made a submissible case as to any of the alleged grounds of negligence. In ruling this issue we view the evidence and all reasonable inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs. Howard v. Lundry, 591 S.W.2d 193 (Mo.App.1979). However, for plaintiffs to present a submissible case of negligence, they must present substantial evidence of every fact necessary to establish the liability of defendant, Probst v. Seyer, 353 S.W.2d 798 (Mo.1962), and it is a judicial function to determine whether negligence can be inferred from the facts, and whether plaintiffs' evidence establishes a submissible case. Powell v. Watson, 526 S.W.2d 318 (Mo.App.1975).

As an employee of Mallinckrodt James Hannah operated a device by which he loaded powdered silicic acid into drums. In order to perform this work he was required to stand under a large metal hopper, and from time to time he would stir the powder with a vacuum device called a "finger" which would remove the air and allow it to compress in the drum. He was six feet six inches in height, and because of the design of the hopper and his height he could not stand up straight, but he was required to work in a "bent, twisted and awkward manner" as he maneuvered the vacuum device.

Mr. Hannah testified that while doing the work exactly as he had been taught, and while in the necessarily required bent and twisted position, he sustained a sharp pain in his lower back, and that when he attempted to take a step his left leg went "numb like jelly." It was later established that he had a ruptured disc in his back. He testified that he did not slip, and that nothing fell or hit him.

Dr. Walter Lansche, a treating doctor, in answer to hypothetical question, testified that in view of the facts assumed there was "a direct cause and relationship between the (factual situation assumed) and the ruptured disc that Mr. Hannah had," and that it did not make any difference whether at the time of injury he was in a "slight twist or large twist." The testimony of Dr. Orlan Pflasterer was substantially to the same effect, and he also stated that based on a reasonable medical certainty, the factual circumstances and means of performing the work caused plaintiff's injuries.

George Gorbell, a consulting engineer who qualified as a safety expert, testified that in his opinion based on personal inspection, the machinery and methods of work employed by Mallinckrodt were not reasonably safe for the purpose they were used.

To establish negligence, as such, it must be shown that the employer has breached some duty. It has been held that that duty "demands the use of all ordinary care: 'To see that the place of work is reasonably safe; to see that suitable instrumentalities are provided; and to see that those instrumentalities are safely used.' " Hightower v. Edwards, 445 S.W.2d 273, 275 (Mo. banc 1969). See also Hill v. Wainwright Industries, Inc., 522 S.W.2d 131 (Mo.App.1975). As stated in the Hightower case, "(A)n employer is not liable to his employee for injuries sustained in the course of his employment unless the employer was negligent, and that such negligence was the direct and proximate cause of the injury."

Mallinckrodt contends in this case that a plaintiff-employee has the burden in presenting a cause of action against his employer for negligence in failing to provide a safe place to work, or safe methods of doing work, to prove a deviation by the employer from custom or usage, or that no custom or usage existed. Mallinckrodt relies primarily on Schaum v. Southwestern Bell Telephone Co., 336 Mo. 228, 78 S.W.2d 439 (1934); Miller v. F. W. Woolworth Co., 328 S.W.2d 684 (Mo. banc 1959); Hill v. Wainwright Industries, Inc., supra ; and Johnston v. Sel-Mor Garment Co., 571 S.W.2d 691 (Mo.App.1978). Language in these cases admittedly supports Mallinckrodt's contention. For example, we find this in the Schaum case, 78 S.W.2d at p. 442:

"(T)he duty to provide safe methods of doing the work in which employees are engaged does not require the best methods or protective devices which might be devised, but only reasonably safe methods. 'The test is what is found to be reasonably safe by usage and is commonly and ordinarily used in other similar places, occupations and businesses.' "

This issue has been the source of much litigation, and cases supporting each side of the issue may frequently be found in the same jurisdiction. See the well written Commentaries on the Law of Master and Servant by C. B. Labatt, Chapter XXXIV (1913). The principle that conformity to common usage is not conclusive in the master's favor emanates from a statement by Willes, J. in Indermaur v. Dames, Law Reps. 1 Ct. of Comm.Pleas, 274, 287 (1866), that "no usage could establish that what was in fact unnecessarily dangerous was in law reasonably safe as against persons towards whom there was a duty to be reasonably careful." Labatt then adds (§ 947):

"That is to say, the position is taken, that custom furnishes no excuse, if the custom itself is negligent. In this point of view, the master's conformity to general usage is regarded merely as evidence tending more or less strongly to exculpate him from the charge of negligence. After it has been shown that the defendant had complied with the usage of other employers in the same line of business, the question whether the particular instrumentality or method was reasonably safe still remains open, and, unless it is decided in the master's favor, he must idemnify the servant."

See also Wabash R. Co. v. McDaniels, 107 U.S. 454, 2 S.Ct. 932, 27 L.Ed. 605 (1883); and Texas & Pacific R. Co. v. Behymer, 189 U.S. 468, 23 S.Ct. 622, 47 L.Ed. 905 (1903). In the latter case it is stated: "What usually is done may be evidence of what ought to be done, but what ought to be done is fixed by a standard of reasonable prudence, whether it usually is complied with or not." This principle is the rule in many of the states. It is sufficient here to make reference to only a few. In Winkler v. Power & Mining Machinery Co., 141 Wis. 244, 124 N.W. 273, 277 (1910), the court declared "There is no rule of law which will enable a master to escape the consequences of failing to exercise ordinary care to furnish his servants reasonably safe appliances by proving that all other masters in the same line of business and using the same appliances are equally negligent." In Anderson v. Pitt Iron Mining Co., 108 Minn. 261, 121 N.W. 915 (1909), it was stated that "a person charged with negligence cannot excuse his misconduct by proving the same misconduct in others," and as stated in Austin v. Chicago R. I. & P. Ry. Co., 93 Iowa 236...

To continue reading

Request your trial
34 cases
  • Hyde v. City of Columbia
    • United States
    • Missouri Court of Appeals
    • June 15, 1982
    ...that industry standard, therefore, becomes evidence of negligence, and clarifies the cause of action the petition intends. Hannah v. Mallinckrodt, Inc., 633 S.W.2d 723 (Mo. banc 1982) 1982. The news publication of the defendant Columbia Daily Tribune reports the victim to have said that the......
  • Hoover's Dairy, Inc. v. Mid-America Dairymen, Inc./Special Products, Inc.
    • United States
    • Missouri Supreme Court
    • November 21, 1985
    ...the benefit of all favorable inferences and disregard defendant's evidence unless it is favorable to plaintiff. See Hannah v. Mallinckrodt, Inc., 633 S.W.2d 723, 724 (Mo. banc 1982). "Determination of substantiality and proximity of the causal relationship between negligence and injury is d......
  • Pierce v. Platte-Clay Elec. Co-op., Inc.
    • United States
    • Missouri Supreme Court
    • May 16, 1989
    ...of conformance to such standards require a conclusion that a defendant did not breach its duty to the plaintiff. In Hannah v. Mallinckrodt, Inc., 633 S.W.2d 723 (Mo. banc 1982), the defendant maintained that the plaintiff had the burden to prove that defendant deviated from industry safety ......
  • Goodrum v. Asplundh Tree Expert Co., 73836
    • United States
    • Missouri Supreme Court
    • January 28, 1992
    ...Relations Commission, and the circuit court was without jurisdiction to determine the issue. 802 S.W.2d at 161. See also Hannah v. Mallinckrodt, 633 S.W.2d 723 (Mo. banc 1982). Here plaintiffs plead an intentional tort by an employer is not an "accident" and is thus beyond the purview of th......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT