Knoche v. Cox

Decision Date25 April 1978
Docket NumberNo. 164,164
Citation282 Md. 447,385 A.2d 1179
PartiesWilliam L. KNOCHE v. Robert Allan COX, Individually and as surviving husband of Dixie Lee Cox.
CourtMaryland Court of Appeals

B. Ford Davis, Baltimore (Whiteford, Taylor, Preston, Trimble & Johnston, Baltimore, on the brief), for appellant.

Bertram M. Goldstein, Baltimore (Jacob & Goldstein, Baltimore, on the brief), for appellee.

Argued before MURPHY, C. J., and SMITH, DIGGES, LEVINE, ELDRIDGE, ORTH and COLE, JJ.

ORTH, Judge.

Dixie Lee Cox was employed as a dental assistant by William L. Knoche, D. D. S. She was killed by the negligent act of Knoche. The issue for decision is whether, under the circumstances of the accident, Knoche's liability for her death was exclusively under the provisions of the Workmen's Compensation Act, Maryland Code (1957, 1964 Repl.Vol., 1977 Cum.Supp.) Art. 101, § 1, et seq. (the Act). We hold that it was.

I

The accident occurred on 4 April 1975 in Knoche's dental office. Mrs. Cox reported for work about 8:00 o'clock that morning and was to work until 6:00 p. m. About 12:40 p. m. she was in a hallway of the dental suite, just outside Knoche's private office, cleaning up dental powder spilled on the floor of the hallway, a task within the usual scope of her duties. Knoche had a patient in the dental chair. Apparently the patient was interested in handguns, and Knoche showed him a 9 mm Browning pistol which the doctor had in his office. While Knoche was attempting to eject a round from the pistol, the weapon discharged. The bullet went through the composition wall between the office and the hallway, struck Mrs. Cox and fatally wounded her.

A suit founded in negligence was filed in the Circuit Court for Baltimore County against Knoche by Robert Allan Cox. As amended, count one of the declaration was a wrongful death action by Cox, individually and as surviving husband of the deceased, to his own use and to the use of the deceased's surviving parents. Count two was an action on behalf of Cox as personal representative of the estate of the deceased. Knoche pleaded the general issue and that the cause of action was barred by the exclusive remedy provisions of § 15 of the Act. The case went to trial before a jury. Knoche's motions for a directed verdict at the end of Cox's case and at the close of all the evidence were denied. The jury returned verdicts in favor of Cox individually and as surviving husband, and to the use of the deceased's parents, and as personal representative of the estate of the deceased. Knoche noted on appeal to the Court of Special Appeals from the judgments absolute entered on the verdicts. We issued a writ of certiorari before decision by that court. Knoche contends that the trial court erred in denying his motion for a directed verdict made at the close of all the evidence.

II

The rationale of the Act and the basic philosophy underlying it were clearly set out by the General Assembly in the Preamble to the legislation enacted some sixty-four years ago:

"WHEREAS, The State of Maryland recognizes that the prosecution of various industrial enterprises which must be relied upon to create and preserve the wealth and prosperity of the State involves injury to large numbers of workmen, resulting in their partial or total incapacity or death, and that under the rules of the common law and the provisions of the statutes now in force an unequal burden is cast upon its citizens, and that in determining the responsibility of the employer on account of injuries sustained by his workmen, great and unnecessary cost is now incurred in litigation, which cost is borne by the workmen, the employers, and the taxpayers, in part, in the maintenance of courts and juries to determine the question of responsibility under the law as it now exists; and

WHEREAS, in addition thereto, the State and its taxpayers are subjected to a heavy burden in providing care and support for such injured workmen and their dependents, which burden should, insofar as may be consistent with the rights and obligations of the people of the State, be more fully distributed as in this Act provided; and

WHEREAS, the common law system governing the remedy of workmen against employers for injuries received in extra-hazardous work is inconsistent with modern industrial conditions; and injuries in such work, formerly occasional, have now become frequent and inevitable."

It was therefore, that the State, exercising its police and sovereign power, declared:

"NOW, THEREFORE, The State of Maryland, exercising herein its police and sovereign power, declares that all phases of extra-hazardous employments be, and they are hereby withdrawn from private controversy, and sure and certain relief for workmen injured in extra-hazardous employments and their families and dependents are hereby provided for, regardless of questions of fault and to the exclusion of every other remedy, except as provided in this Act." 1

At the time of the occurrence here, § 15 of the Act provided:

"Every employer subject to the provisions of this article, shall pay or provide as required herein compensation according to the schedules of this article for the disability or death of his employee resulting from an accidental personal injury sustained by the employee arising out of and in the course of his employment without regard to fault as a cause of such injury, except where the injury is occasioned by willful intention of the injured employee to bring about the injury or death of himself or of another, or where the injury results solely from the intoxication of the injured employee while on duty or solely from the effect upon him of any narcotic, depressant, stimulant, hallucinogenic or hypnotic drug or from the effect upon him of any other drug which renders him incapable of satisfactorily performing his job except when such drug has been administered or taken in accordance with a physician's prescription. Where the injury is occasioned by the willful intention of the injured employee to bring about the injury or death of himself or of another, or where the injury results solely from the intoxication of the injured employee while on duty or solely from the effect upon him of any narcotic, depressant, stimulant, hallucinogenic or hypnotic drug or from the effect upon him of any other drug which renders him incapable of satisfactorily performing his job, neither the injured employee nor any dependent of such employee shall receive compensation under this article."

Knoche was an employer subject to the provisions of the Act. § 21(a)(1). Mrs. Cox was an employee subject to the provisions of the Act. § 21(b); note 1 supra. The exceptions arising when an injury is occasioned by wilful intention of the injured employee or results solely from the intoxication of the injured employee or solely from the effect of a drug are not applicable in the circumstances. Section 15 of the Act then spells out the exclusiveness of the liability in accord with the declaration expressed in the Preamble:

"The liability prescribed by the past preceding paragraph shall be exclusive, except that if an employer fails to secure the payment of compensation for his injured employees and their dependents as provided in this article, an injured employee or his legal representative in case death results from the injury, may, at his option, elect to claim compensation under this article, or to maintain an action in the courts for damages on account of such injury; and in such an action the defendant may not plead as a defense that the injury was caused by the negligence of a fellow servant or that the employee assumed the risk of his employment, or that the injury was due to the contributory negligence of the employee."

The option under the "exclusive" provisions of § 15 was not available to Cox because Knoche had, as was stipulated, secured the payment of compensation for his employee, Mrs. Cox, and her dependents as provided in the Act.

This Court, long past and to the present day, has uniformly said that, aside from the exceptions created by the Act itself the operation of the law is exclusive of all other remedy and liability, as to both the employer and employee who come within the purview of the Act, with respect to all injury arising out of and in the course of the employment. Victory Sparkler Co. v. Francks, 147 Md. 368, 375, 128 A. 635 (1925) and cases cited therein. See Wood v. Aetna Cas. & Surety Co., 260 Md. 651, 659-661, 273 A.2d 125 (1971). Victory Sparkler summed it up this way:

"In other words, the statute has given to labor what it never had before, and has taken from capital what it had always enjoyed, and has compensated the latter by limiting its liability, while engaged in hazardous employment, and conforming to the act, to the payment of compensation only to those who sustain an injury, arising out of and in the course of their employment, that is compensable under the act." 147 Md. at 376-377, 128 A. at 638.

In short, the action here could be maintained only if the accidental personal injury which resulted in the death of Mrs. Cox did not arise out of and in the course of her employment. 2

"The words 'out of' and 'in the course of' employment as used in the Workmen's Compensation Act are not synonymous . . . ." Pariser Bakery v. Koontz, 239 Md. 586, 590, 212 A.2d 324, 326 (1965). When both conditions are satisfied, the injury is within the operation of the Act. Perdue v. Brittingham, 186 Md. 393, 402, 47 A.2d 491 (1946).

We said in Maryland Casualty Co. v. INA, 248 Md. 704, 238 A.2d 88, (1968):

"The words 'in the course of employment' refer to the time and place of an accident and the circumstances under which it occurs, Coates v. J. M. Bucheimer Co., 242 Md. 198, 218 A.2d 191; Hill v. Liberty Motors, 185 Md. 596, 45 A.2d 467; but whether a given injury is in the course of the employment is determined by the facts and circumstances of each particular case. Coates v. J. M....

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