Hygeia Ice & Coal Co. v. Schaeffer

Decision Date28 January 1927
Docket Number58.
Citation136 A. 548,152 Md. 231
CourtMaryland Court of Appeals

Appeal from Circuit Court, Frederick County; Hammond Urner, Glenn H Worthington, Judges.

"To be officially reported."

Proceeding under the Workmen's Compensation Act by William T Schaeffer, opposed by the Hygeia Ice & Coal Company employer, and the Maryland Casualty Company, insurer. Award of compensation by the State Industrial Accident Commission was affirmed on appeal to the circuit court and the employer and insurer appeal. Affirmed.


Austin J. Lilly and G. Randolph Aiken, both of Baltimore (Edgar H McBride, of Frederick, on the brief), for appellants.

W. Clinton McSherry, of Frederick, for appellee.


The Hygeia Ice & Coal Company, one of the appellants, was engaged in the ice and coal business at Brunswick, Md., at which point it owned and occupied for the purpose of its business a building. This plant was under the supervision and control of H. E. Phleger, the general manager of the company in Brunswick. Some time in July, 1925, the company determined to weatherboard its building with shingles. The general manager decided to have one end of the building so shingled, and, if the appearance was satisfactory, then the whole building would be shingled in like manner. On or about July 6, 1925, the appellee was employed to do this work; the employer furnishing all material, and the appellee to receive $2.25 per square for putting on the shingles. It was necessary in doing the work to erect a scaffold, which was done by the appellee out of lumber furnished and paid for by the employer. The appellee started his work on July 8th, and after putting on about 2 1/2 squares of shingles, the scaffold upon which he was standing gave way, and he fell a distance of 5 feet, resulting in the fracture of his right leg. After the injury application was made by the appellee to the State Industrial Accident Commission for compensation. The commission, after due hearing, decided that the appellee was an employee of the ice and coal company within the meaning of the Workmen's Compensation Law, and awarded him compensation for his injury.

From this award the ice and coal company and its insurer, the Maryland Casualty Company, appealed to the circuit court for Frederick county. In that court a jury trial was had, and two issues of fact were submitted for finding by the jury:

First. "Was William T. Schaeffer, the claimant in this case, an independent contractor at the time of the accident, on July 8, 1925, at the plant of the Hygeia Ice & Coal Company, Brunswick, Md.?"
Second. "Was William T. Schaeffer, the claimant in this case, a casual employee of the Hygeia Ice & Coal Company, Brunswick, Md., on July 8, 1925, at the time of the accident?"

Testimony was taken on behalf of the appellant and appellee, and the jury found in the negative as to both issues; that is to say, they found that the appellee was neither an independent contractor nor a casual employee. Thereupon judgment was entered, affirming the order of the State Industrial Accident Commission. From that judgment this appeal is prosecuted.

The single exception in the record is to the court's ruling on the prayers. The appellant offered ten prayers and the appellee one. The lower court refused the appellant's 1-A, 1-B, fourth, sixth, seventh, eighth, and ninth prayers, granted its second prayer, granted its third and fifth prayers as modified by the court, and granted the single prayer of the appellee. The contention of the appellant here is that the court erred in refusing the appellant's 1-A and 1-B prayers and granting the appellee's prayer, which latter prayer instructed the jury as to the burden of proof. The appellant's 1-A and 1-B prayers asked for an instructed verdict in favor of the appellant, upon the theory that the uncontradicted evidence showed that the appellee was either an independent contractor or a casual employee. To support this theory the appellant contends that, where the evidence is uncontradicted, and reasonable minds cannot differ as to the inferences deducible therefrom, the question then becomes one of law, to be decided by the court, and not one for the jury.

There is cited in support of this contention the case of Harrison v. Central Construction Company, 135 Md. 170, 108 A. 874. The facts and circumstances of that case are entirely different from those of the case now under consideration. There the case was tried before the court sitting as a jury, upon an agreed statement of facts. The facts disclosed that the claimant was injured while on his way to work from his home in Baltimore to Magnolia in boarding a train of the Pennsylvania Railroad, upon which transportation was furnished the claimant by his employer. As stated, there was not, nor could there be, any dispute as to the facts or inferences to be deduced therefrom. The question therefore presented was strictly and solely a legal one, to wit, where an employee going to his work, where the transportation is furnished by the employer, is injured, is such injury in the course of his employment? The mere statement of the only question to be decided in that case is sufficient to demonstrate that it was a question for the court, for the reason that no evidence could have been submitted to the jury which would enable them to determine that question. After the agreed statement of facts, the question ceased to be a mixed one of law and fact, and became one of law only; and, had the case been submitted to the jury, the only question which the jury could have passed upon would have been the legal one, which was within the province and the duty of the court to determine.

Section 56 of article 101, Code Pub. Gen. Laws 1924 (Workmen's Compensation), in part provides:

"Any employer, employee, beneficiary or person feeling aggrieved by any decision of the commission affecting his interest under this article may have the same reviewed by a proceeding in the nature of an appeal and initiated in the circuit court of the county or in the common-law courts of Baltimore city having jurisdiction over the place where the accident occurred or over the person appealing from such decision, and the court shall determine whether the commission has justly considered all the facts concerning injury, whether it has exceeded the powers granted it by the article, whether it has misconstrued the law and facts applicable in the case decided."

Since the decision in the case of Harrison v. Central Construction Company, supra, it is settled that on appeal, where the facts have been ascertained and agreed upon, or conceded by the parties, and there is no dispute as to the inferences to be drawn from the facts, there is presented a question of law only, which may be decided by the court, and this without regard to which party is the appellant. For example, the statute in terms excludes farm laborers from the provisions of the article 101. Suppose a farm hand should be injured by falling from a load of hay, while going from the field to the barn, and he should apply to and be awarded compensation by the commission. On appeal the single question to be determined would be whether or not farm laborers are within the provisions of the Workmen's Compensation Article. The question thus presented would be a legal one, to be answered by construing the statute, which function is one for the court, and not for the jury, because there would be no fact the finding of which would depend upon evidence. Todd v. Furniture Company, 147 Md. 359, 128 A. 42; Bogatsky v. Heller (No. 56, Oct. Term, 1926) 135 A. 416.

In the case of Bell v. Steen, 137 Md. 388, 112 A. 584, decided after Harrison v. Central Construction Co., supra, the issues of fact submitted to the jury were:

First. "Was the appellee, Evan H. Bell, an employee of the appellants, E. Steen Bros.?" And, second. "Was the appellee, Evan H. Bell, a casual employee of the appellants, E. Steen Bros.?"

--which are the same issues of fact presented by the case at bar. In that case the lower court granted a prayer which instructed the jury as a matter of law that Evan H. Bell was not a person engaged in the service of the appellants, Steen Bros., and was therefore not an employee within the meaning of the Workmen's Compensation Act, and the answer to the first question should be ""No." Upon appeal, this instruction was declared to be erroneous and was reversed, this court saying:

"The question presented in this case is identical with that recently passed upon by this Court in the recent case of Jewel Tea Company v. Weber, 132 Md. 178 , and unless we

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