O'Leary v. Brown-Pacific-Maxon, Inc.

Decision Date26 February 1951
Docket NumberI,No. 267,BROWN-PACIFIC-MAXO,267
Citation95 L.Ed. 483,340 U.S. 504,71 S.Ct. 470
PartiesO'LEARY, Deputy Commissioner, v. nc., et al
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Mr. Morton Hollander, Washington, D.C., for petitioner.

Mr. Edward S. Franklin, Seattle, Wash., for respondent.

Mr. Justice FRANKFURTER delivered the opinion of the Court.

In this case we are called upon to review an award of compensation under the Longshoremen's and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act. Act of March 4, 1927, 44 Stat. 1424, as amended, 33 U.S.C. § 901 et seq., 33 U.S.C.A. § 901 et seq. The award was made on a claim arising from the accidental death of an employee of Brown-Pacific-Maxon, Inc., a government contractor operating on the island of Guam. Brown-Pacific maintained for its employees a recreation center near the shoreline, along which ran a channel so dangerous for swimmers that its use was forbidden and signs to that effect erected. John Valak, the employee, spent the afternoon at the center, and was waiting for his employer's bus to take him from the area when he saw or heard two men, standing on the reefs beyond the channel, signaling for help. Followed by nearly twenty others, he plunged in to effect a rescue. In attempting to swim the channel to reach the two men he was drowned.

A claim was filed by his dependent mother, based on the Longshoremen's Act and on an Act of August 16, 1941, extending the compensation provisions to certain employment in overseas possessions. 55 Stat. 622, 56 Stat. 1035, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 1651, 42 U.S.C.A. § 1651. In due course of the statutory procedure, the Deputy Commissioner found as a 'fact' that 'at the time of his drowning and death the deceased was using the recreational facilities sponsored and made available by the employer for the use of its employees and such participation by the deceased was an incident of his employment, and that his drowning and death arose out of and in the course of said employment * * *.' Accordingly, he awarded a death benefit of $9.38 per week. Brown-Pacific and its insurance carrier thereupon petitioned the District Court under § 21 of the Act to set aside the award. That court denied the petition on the ground that 'there is substantial evidence * * * to sustain the compensation order.' On appeal, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed. In concluded that 'The lethal currents were not a part of the recreational facilities supplied by the employer and the swimming in them for the rescue of the unknown man was not recreation. It was an act entirely disconnected from any use for which the recreational camp was provided and not in the course of Valak's employment.' 182 F.2d 772, 773. We granted certiorari, 340 U.S. 849, 71 S.Ct. 81, because the case brought into question judicial review of awards under the Longshoremen's Act in light of the Administrative Procedure Act.

The Longshoremen's and Harbor Workers' Act authorizes payment of compensation for 'accidental injury or death arising out of and in the course of employment'. § 2(2), 44 Stat. 1425, 33 U.S.C. § 902(2), 33 U.S.C.A. § 902(2). As we read its opinion the Court of Appeals entertained the view that this standard precluded an award for injuries incurred in an attempt to rescue persons not known to be in the employer's service, undertaken in forbidden waters outside the employer's premises. We think this is too restricted an interpretation of the Act. Workmen's compensation is not confined by commonlaw conceptions of scope of employment. Cardillo v. Liberty Mutual Ins. Co., 330 U.S. 469, 481, 67 S.Ct. 801, 808, 91 L.Ed. 1028; Matter of Waters v. William J. Taylor Co., 218 N.Y. 248, 251, 112 N.E. 727, 728, L.R.A.1917A, 347. The test of re- covery is not a causal relation between the nature of employment of the injured person and the accident. Thom v. Sinclair, (1917) A.C. 127, 142. Nor is it necessary that the employee be engaged at the time of the injury in activity of benefit to his employer. All that is required is that the 'obligations or conditions' of employment create the 'zone of special danger' out of which the injury arose. Ibid. A reasonable rescue attempt, like pursuit in aid of an officer making an arrest, may be 'one of the risks of the employment, an incident of the service, foreseeable, if not foreseen, and so covered by the statute.' Matter of Babington v. Yellow Taxi Corp., 250 N.Y. 14, 17, 164 N.E. 726, 727; Puttkammer v. Industrial Comm., 371 Ill. 497, 21 N.E.2d 575. This is not to say that there are not cases 'where an employee even with the laudable purpose of helping another, might go so far from his employment and become so thoroughly disconnected from the service of his employer that it would be entirely unreasonable to say that injuries suffered by him arose out of and in the course of his employment.' Matter of Waters v. William J. Taylor Co., 218 N.Y. at page 252, 112 N.E. at page 728. We hold only that rescue attempts such as that before us are not necessarily excluded from the coverage of the Act as the kind of conduct that employees engage in as frolics of their own.

The Deputy Commissioner treated the question whether the particular rescue attempt described by the evidence was one of the class covered by the Act as a question of 'fact.' Doing so only serves to illustrate once more the variety of ascertainments covered by the blanket term 'fact.' Here of course it does not connote a simple, external, physical event as to which there is conflicting testimony. The conclusion concerns a combination of happenings and the inferences drawn from them. In part at least, the inferences presuppose applicable standards for assessing the simple, external facts. Yet the stand- ards are not so severable from the experience of industry nor of such a nature as to be peculiarly appropriate for independent judicial ascertainment as 'questions of law.'

Both sides conceded that the scope of judicial review of such findings of fact is governed by the Administrative Procedure Act. Act of June 11, 1946, 60 Stat. 237, 5 U.S.C. § 1001 et seq., 5 U.S.C.A. § 1001 et seq. The standard, therefore,...

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