In re Madden

Decision Date07 February 1916
CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court


Appeal from Superior Court, Worcester County; Philip J. O'Connell, Judge.

Proceedings under the Workmen's Compensation Act by Honora E. Madden to obtain compensation for personal injuries, opposed by the American Mutual Liability Insurance Company. Compensation was awarded, the award affirmed by the Industrial Accident Board, and the insurer appeals. Decree affirmed.

T. Hovey Gage, Frank F. Dresser, and Charles A. Hamilton, all of Worcester, for appellant.

John C. Mahoney, of Worcester, for appellee.


Honora E. Madden was an employé of a subscriber under the Workmen's Compensation Act, St. 1911, c. 751. The industrial accident board found that, while engaged in the performance of the work for which she was hired, she ‘received a personal injury arising out of * * * her employment, * * * aggravating and accelerating a weak heart condition to the point of total incapacity for work.’ This finding, standing alone, might be considered indecisive. It simply is a catagorical repetition of the words in the statute by which the result is reached entitling the employé to compensation, without a statement of what the personal injury was out of which grows the right to money payments. But, as the industrial accident board ‘affirms and adopts the findings and decision of the committee on arbitration,’ resort may be had to the proceedings of that committee and the evidence there reported for the foundation of its conclusions. After reciting the substance of the evidence, most of which was uncontroverted except that from physicians, the finding of the arbitration committee was that ‘the work which Mrs. Madden was doing on the day on which the injury was received so aggravated and accelerated a weak heart condition as to incapacitate her for work, and that she received a personal injury arising out of and in the course of her employment,’ whereby she was incapacitated. The personal injury and the circumstances under which it was received are set out in the evidence.

A finding was warranted that she had ‘a weak heart condition’ before her injury and before she entered the service of the subscriber. Her work for it was to repair bad spots in the weaving on rolls of carpet. The roll was placed on some device nearby, and she pulled the carpet along and over a table in front of her. Her own description was that:

‘Her work was more pulling [that is, dragging the carpet along over the table] than sewing; * * * the carpet was brought to them in a roll and a bar was put through this roll and two girls had to lift it; they undid the carpet on that roll, turned the back over and had to pull it, then they had to turn the face of it over and it was taken to the shears-they had to pull it to them, they dragged them on the floor; there were some carpets that had to be put on the table but not all of them. * * * She had not been sewing all morning on the day of the alleged injury-there is not as much sewing to do as pulling. * * * She had never had any attack before this one.’

Her description of the ‘personal injury’ (part 2, § 1) on which the claim is founded, was this:

She went to work on the morning of July 10 as she had every morning, and worked up to the time she was taken with the pain-that was about 11:40 o'clock; she was pulling carpets at the time she felt something give-she thought it would pass away. * * * She continued to work until it was time to wash up-she heated her tea * * * and sat down to eat her dinner-she could not eat so she * * * started to work again; then she felt something else give way,’ and she was taken to the hospital.

Other witnesses testified that the employé exclaimed that she ‘had an awful pain under her heart’ and that she placed some ice over her heart. It might have been inferred from this and other evidence that she suffered an attack of ‘angina pectoris,’ which is defined in Webster's International Dictionary as a ‘peculiarly painful disease * * * usually associated with organic change of the heart.’ There was, also, medical testimony to the effect that ‘hard, laborious work would produce a heart lesion; if there were any previous heart trouble, it would accelerate it.’ The question is, whether reasonable men could draw an inference that this was a personal injury received by the employé arising out of her employment. We are not concerned with the inquiry whether there are other inferences, or whether this is the most reasonable one.

Rational minded persons endeavoring to get at the truth might have found upon this evidence, with the deductions reasonably to be drawn from it, that the employé, being under some degree of disability due to a weak heart, suffered by reason of the exertion in pulling the carpet, as required by her contract of service, a further acute impairment of the strength of the heart, whereby it was disabled from performing its normal functions as it had done theretofore. This was a damage to a physical organ. It was a definite and specific detriment to the physiological structure of her body.

The standard established in this respect by our Workmen's Compensation Act as the ground for compensation is simply the receiving of ‘personal injury arising out of and in the course of’ the employment. This standard is materially different from that of the English act and of the acts of some of the states of this nation. That standard is ‘personal injury by accident,’ both in the act of 1897 and 1906. See 60 and 61 Vict. 1897, c. 37, § 1 (1); 6 Edward VII, 1906, c. 58, § 1 (1).

The difference between the phraseology of our act and the English act in this respect cannot be regarded as immaterial or casual. The English act in its present form was passed several years before ours. It was known to the Legislature which enacted our statute and was followed as to its general frame and in many important particulars. Gould's Case, 215 Mass. 480, 486, 102 N. E. 693, Ann. Cas. 1914D, 372;McNicol's Case, 215 Mass. 497, 499, 102 N. E. 697. Indeed, ‘the language of the English act of 1897 was followed whenever possible.’ See ‘Report of Commission on Compensation,’ 1912, p. 46. This difference must be treated as the result of deliberate design by the general court after intelligent comprehension of the limitation expressed by the words of the English act. The freer and more comprehensive words in our act must be given their natural construction with whatever added force may come from the intentional contrast in phraseology with the English act. The ‘personal injury by accident,’ which by the English act is made the prerequisite for the award of financial relief, is narrower in its scope than the simple ‘personal injury’ of our act. As was said in Fenton v. J. Thorley & Co., Ltd., 1903 A. C. 443, at 448:

‘The words ‘by accident’ are * * * introduced parenthetically as it were to qualify the word ‘injury,’ confining it to a certain class of injuries, and excluding other classes, as, for instance, injuries by disease or injuries self-inflicted by design.'

To the element of ‘personal injury’ the further condition is added, that it must have been received as ‘an unlooked for mishap or an untoward event which is not expected or designed,’ and to this have been appended the words ‘by the workman himself’ in Trim Joint District School Board of Management v. Kelly, 1914 A. C. 667, 679, whereby injuries ‘designed’ by persons other than the workmen are included within that act. An illustration of the difference between ‘personal injury’ and ‘personal injury by accident’ put by Lord Reading, the present Chief Justice of England, in the case last cited, at page 720, is apposite in this connection:

‘For example, if a workman became blind in consequence of an explosion at the factory, that would constitute an injury by accident; but if in consequence of the nature of his employment his sight was gradually impaired and eventually he became blind, that would be an injury, but not an injury by accident.’

The wide divergence between a simple ‘personal injury,’ the standard of our act, and the ‘personal injury by accident’ of the English and other acts is exemplified further by reference to some of the decisions. It was held in Steel v. Cammell, Laird & Co., Ltd., 1905 2 K. B. 232, that lead poisoning resulting from a gradual accumulation of the poison in handling lead, in Broderick v. LondonCounty Council, 1908 2 K. B. 807, that interitis from inhaling sewer gas in the course of the employment, and in Eke v. Hart-Dyke, 1910 2 K. B. 677, that ptomaine poisoning from clearing out cesspools, were not within the act. As we understand those judgments, each one rests in the ground that there was a ‘personal injury,’ but that it was not ‘by accident’ and hence there could be no recovery. If the words ‘by accident’ had been omitted from the English act, the inference seems irresistible from the chain of reasoning adopted in each of these judgments that a different judicial result would have been reached. That a different result seems to us inevitable is manifest from the course of reasoning and the conclusion in Hurle's Case, 217 Mass. 223, 104 N. E. 336, Ann. Cas. 1915C, 919, and Johnson's Case, 217 Mass. 388, 104 N. E. 735. In any event, decisions made as to workmen's compensation acts which base compensation upon ‘personal injury by accident’ instead of upon ‘personal injury’ well may be and may be expected to be divergent from our own and compensation be denied under them which would be awarded under ours. See Liondale Bleach, Dye & Paint Works v. Riker, 85 N. J. Law, 426, 89 Atl. 929, and Adams v. Acme White Lead & Color Works, 182 Mich. 157, 148 N. W. 485. Although the Ohio act in this respect is similar to ours, the history and terms of the Ohio constitutional amendment touching the subject, and of the governing statute and construction placed...

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