Morris v. State Compensation Com'r, No. 10340

CourtSupreme Court of West Virginia
Writing for the CourtLOVINS
Citation64 S.E.2d 496,135 W.Va. 425
Docket NumberNo. 10340
Decision Date30 April 1951
PartiesMORRIS, v. STATE COMPENSATION COMMISSIONER.

Page 496

64 S.E.2d 496
135 W.Va. 425
MORRIS,
v.
STATE COMPENSATION COMMISSIONER.
No. 10340.
Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia.
Submitted Jan. 10, 1951.
Decided March 1, 1951.
Rehearing Denied April 30, 1951.

Syllabus by the Court

A dependent widow of a deceased employee, whose death occurred in the course of his employment, where the surrounding circumstances disclosed the outstanding probability that such employee died from electric shock as a result of his employment, and no natural cause of his death is shown, is entitled to workmen's compensation benefits.

Hillis Townsend, Charleston, for appellant.

Page 497

William R. Laird, and Mahan, White & Higgins, all of Fayetteville, for appellee.

LOVINS, Judge.

This is a statutory appeal from an order of the Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board, denying workmen's compensation benefits to Mrs. Carrie Morris, hereinafter referred to as 'claimant', whose deceased husband, Harry Morris, at the time of his death, was an employee of the Page Mining Company, hereinafter referred to as 'employer.'

[135 W.Va. 426] Harry Morris, a sixty-one year old pump man, was found dead in the employer's mine on the afternoon of February 17, 1949. The widow's claim, based on the contention that death was due to an electrical shock sustained by her husband in the course of his employment, was originally rejected by the State Compensation Commissioner on the ground that Morris's death was not due to an injury received in the course of and as a result of his employment. The certificate of death, furnished by the claimant with her application for benefits, and then considered by the commissioner, stated that the cause of death was unknown.

A pathologist, in a report of an autopsy performed on the day of death, stated that the cause of death was undetermined, but that a terminal event in the death of Morris was edema of the brain and meninges. According to his report, decedent's son had told the pathologist that on the morning of his death his father had mentioned casually that 'he was so tired that he would rather stay at home than go to work.' The employer in its report to the commissioner was unable to account for the death of its employee.

Hearings were held by the commissioner pursuant to a protest filed by the claimant, and the following facts were developed.

Several employees with whom Harry Morris was working testified that he appeared to be in good health when he reported for duty on the day of his death, and that he seemed to be in good physical condition during the course of the morning's work. At approximately 2:15 P.M., the customary quitting time, the decedent was not present for the trip out of the mine. His fellow employees, being concerned over his absence, went to a section of the mine where Morris had gone to change the discharge lines on a pump. The work to be done by decedent consisted of taking a hose from the end of one pipe and putting it on the end of another. Decedent was found dead, lying on his back, both hands down by his sides. His body was [135 W.Va. 427] partly under one of the discharge lines of the pump and across two return ground wires, one of which was uninsulated. His head was even with the motor of the pump. The body was not touching the pump, the motor or the discharge pipe, which was about three feet above the ground. The pump motor was not running, and the job which decedent was sent to do had not been performed.

The clothing of the decedent was wet, and he had vomited. There are two possible ways to account for the fact that Morris's clothing was wet. One witness testified that it was impossible for a person to perform the duties of pump man without getting wet. There is testimony that there was a water hole along the most direct and convenient approach to the pump. It is certain that if Morris had gone through the water hole, his clothing would have been at least partially wet.

The motor of the pump where decedent's body was found was operated by electricity, which was obtained by connecting the wire leading to the motor with the main current wire, sometimes called the 'trolley wire'. Such connection was effected by manually placing the nip of the motor wire over the trolley wire. To stop the flow of electric power into the motor wire, the nip had to be removed. Decedent could not have done the work which he intended to do without first cutting off the pump motor, and removal of the nip was the only manner in which that could have been done.

A portion of the electric wire leading to the pump was immersed in the above-mentioned water hole, and one witness, a member of the searching party, testified that he removed the nip of this wire from the trolley wire before the party passed

Page 498

through the water, the witness being fearful that unless this precaution were taken, the water would be charged with electricity. The plain inference from such evidence is that the decedent, if he had passed through the water, might have been electrocuted. There is no evidence as to the distance from the water hole to the place where the body was lying. In view of the testimony[135 W.Va. 428] of the witness, that he had removed the nip and thus stopped the pump motor, it is reasonable to say that the motor was running at the time of decedent's death, and that the flow of electric power to the pump motor had not ceased at the time.

There is no evidence as to the voltage of electric power transmitted by any of the wires mentioned in the record.

The autopsy report disclosed no pathological symptoms or indications of electrocution. The mortician, who prepared the body for burial, testified that there was a brown mark about three-fourths of an inch long on the back of the left hand. The mark, though present before and after embalming, was more pronounced after embalming. Two witnesses who saw the body the following day said that they noticed a mark on the right temple about the size of a half dollar; that there was a mark extending across the inside portion of the fingers on the left hand; and that the hand appeared to be drawn into a cupped shape. The examining pathologist testified that he had removed a scab from the brown mark on the back of decedent's left hand, and that he concluded, after miscroscopic examination, that the lesion was not of recent origin. The witness further testified that the mark on the temple was a superficial skin lesion of recent origin caused by scratching over a rough surface. He stated as his conclusion that neither mark contributed to decedent's death. The pathologist further testified that decedent could have suffered an electrical shock without the body showing either pathological change or external marks. But in ninety to ninety-three per cent of cases of electrocution there are obvious marks resulting from it.

There is no evidence to show that decedent had been in ill health prior to the date of his death.

On April 24, 1950, the Compensation Commissioner set aside his former ruling, and allowed the widow's claim, awarding her the benefits as provided in the statute. An appeal was taken to the Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board. The commissioner's ruling was reversed by the [135 W.Va. 429] appeal board, and benefits were denied on the ground that the claimant had not shown by a preponderance of the evidence that the death of the decedent resulted from his employment.

It is clearly shown that the death of the decedent occurred in the course of his employment. Therefore, the single issue presented upon this appeal is whether decedent's death resulted from his employment.

This Court has stated on many occasions that a spirit of liberality should be employed in applying the provisions of the Workmen's Compensation Act. Miller v. Compensation Com'r, 126 W.Va. 78, 81, 27 S.E.2d 586; Chiericozzi v. Compensation Com'r, 124 W.Va. 213, 217, 19 S.E.2d 590; Lester v. Compensation Com'r, 123 W.Va. 516, 520, 16 S.E.2d 920, 923; Prince v. State Compensation Com'r, 123 W.Va. 67, 13 S.E.2d 396; Burgess v. State Compensation Com'r, 121 W.Va. 571, 573, 5 S.E.2d 804; Martin v. State Compensation Commissioner, 111 W.Va. 420, 162 S.E. 486; Vandall v. State Compensation Com'r, 110 W.Va. 61, 158 S.E. 499; Bonner v. State Compensation Com'r, 110 W.Va. 38, 156 S.E. 847; Kincannon v. State Compensation Com'r, 107 W.Va. 533, 149 S.E. 665; Caldwell v. Workmen's Compensation Com'r, 106 W.Va. 14, 18, 144 S.E. 568.

The record discloses no direct evidence of how the death of Harry Morris occurred, but the absence of such evidence does not preclude an allowance of compensation benefits, if circumstances are shown from which it may be inferred that his death resulted from such employment. While it is incumbent upon the claimant to establish her claim by a preponderance of the evidence, this may be, and is, done by establishing physical facts that would warrant an inference that death was due to an injury received in the course...

To continue reading

Request your trial
26 practice notes
  • Staubs v. State Workmen's Compensation Commissioner, No. 12819
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • July 15, 1969
    ...72, 125 S.E.2d 771; Flynn v. State Compensation Commissioner, 141 W.Va. 445, 91 S.E.2d 156; Morris v. State Compensation Commissioner, 135 W.Va. 425, 64 S.E.2d 496; Walk v. [153 W.Va. 348] State Compensation Commissioner, 134 W.Va. 223, 58 S.E.2d 791; Miller v. State Compensation Commission......
  • Pennington v. State Workmen's Compensation Com'r, No. 12934
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • July 7, 1970
    ...of a claimant. Vankirk v. State Compensation Commissioner, 144 W.Va. 447, 108 S.E.2d 567; Morris v. State Compensation Commissioner, 135 W.Va. 425, 64 S.E.2d[154 W.Va. 384] 496; Pannell v. State Compensation Commissioner, 126 W.Va. 725, 30 S.E.2d 129; Keller v. State Compensation Commission......
  • Lee-Norse Co. v. Rutledge, LEE-NORSE
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • May 18, 1982
    ...Johnson v. State Workmen's Compensation Commission, 155 W.Va. 624, 186 S.E.2d 771 (1972); Morris v. State Compensation Commissioner, 135 W.Va. 425, 64 S.E.2d 496 (1951); McVey v. Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co., 103 W.Va. 519, 138 S.E. 97 (1927). We discussed liberal construction of our ......
  • Buckalew v. State Compensation Director, No. 12394
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • February 23, 1965
    ...17, 132 S.E.2d 636; Jackson v. State Compensation Commissioner, 146 W.Va. 304, 119 S.E.2d 657; Morris v. State Compensation Commissioner, 135 W.Va. 425, 64 S.E.2d 496; Walk v. State Compensation Commissioner, 134 W.Va. 223, 58 S.E.2d 791; Vento v. State Compensation Commissioner, 130 W.Va. ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
26 cases
  • Staubs v. State Workmen's Compensation Commissioner, No. 12819
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • July 15, 1969
    ...72, 125 S.E.2d 771; Flynn v. State Compensation Commissioner, 141 W.Va. 445, 91 S.E.2d 156; Morris v. State Compensation Commissioner, 135 W.Va. 425, 64 S.E.2d 496; Walk v. [153 W.Va. 348] State Compensation Commissioner, 134 W.Va. 223, 58 S.E.2d 791; Miller v. State Compensation Commission......
  • Pennington v. State Workmen's Compensation Com'r, No. 12934
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • July 7, 1970
    ...of a claimant. Vankirk v. State Compensation Commissioner, 144 W.Va. 447, 108 S.E.2d 567; Morris v. State Compensation Commissioner, 135 W.Va. 425, 64 S.E.2d[154 W.Va. 384] 496; Pannell v. State Compensation Commissioner, 126 W.Va. 725, 30 S.E.2d 129; Keller v. State Compensation Commission......
  • Lee-Norse Co. v. Rutledge, LEE-NORSE
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • May 18, 1982
    ...Johnson v. State Workmen's Compensation Commission, 155 W.Va. 624, 186 S.E.2d 771 (1972); Morris v. State Compensation Commissioner, 135 W.Va. 425, 64 S.E.2d 496 (1951); McVey v. Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co., 103 W.Va. 519, 138 S.E. 97 (1927). We discussed liberal construction of our ......
  • Buckalew v. State Compensation Director, No. 12394
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • February 23, 1965
    ...17, 132 S.E.2d 636; Jackson v. State Compensation Commissioner, 146 W.Va. 304, 119 S.E.2d 657; Morris v. State Compensation Commissioner, 135 W.Va. 425, 64 S.E.2d 496; Walk v. State Compensation Commissioner, 134 W.Va. 223, 58 S.E.2d 791; Vento v. State Compensation Commissioner, 130 W.Va. ......
  • 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