Person v. Scullin Steel Co., 58854

Citation523 S.W.2d 801
Decision Date12 May 1975
Docket NumberNo. 58854,58854
PartiesRufus PERSON, Appellant (Employee), v. SCULLIN STEEL COMPANY and continental Casualty Company, Respondents Employer and Insurer.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Missouri

Morris B. Kessler, St. Louis, for appellant.

Edward W. Warner, evans & Dixon, St. Louis, for respondents.

HOLMAN, Judge.

Appeal by claimant, Rufus Person (hereinafter referred to as Claimant), from a judgment of the Circuit Court affirming the decision of the Industrial Commission of Missouri, denying him benefits under the Workmen's Compensation Law. See Chapter 287, RSMo 1969, V.A.M.S., and particularly Section 287.120(1) V.A.M.S. Although the referee found the accident to be compensable as an unprovoked and unexplained assault, the Industrial Commission reversed the holding finding that the assault arose by reason of an earlier personal argument and that the 1969 amendment to Section 287.120(1) did not make the assault compensable. Claimant appealed to the St. Louis District of the Court of Appeals and that court adopted an opinion which reversed the judgment. Upon application of respondents we ordered the case transferred to this court. It will be finally determined here the same as on original appeal. Art. V. § 10, Mo. Const., V.A.M.S. We affirm.

The claimant and the assailant, Joe Barber, were employed by Scullin Steel Company, hereinafter referred to as Employer. By agreement claimant drove Barber to and from work every day. On November 7, 1970, claimant stopped by Barber's home, but was told by Mrs. Barber that her husband was not there. Claimant proceeded to drive to work. Upon arriving, he went to the washroom to change clothes and to prepare for his workday. While there, Barber entered the washroom and berated claimant for not picking him up, calling him a no-good S.O.B. Claimant testified that he told Barber that Mrs. Barber had told him that he was not at home and that Barber then offered him a drink of wine which he refused. It is claimant's version that he then left the washroom, made up his 'paint stuff,' and was carrying a bucket and sprayer to where he was to work when Joe, barber suddenly came up and shoved him, causing him to fall and to strike the left side of his face and head.

Also received into evidence was the following stipulation offered by the Employer and Insurer concerning the testimony of co-employee, Fred Bates:

That Mr. Bates would testify that he was in the washroom prior to work on the three to eleven shift at Scullin Steel Company on November 7, 1970, and observed Rufus Person and Joe Barber; that he heard Joe Barber call Rufus Person a no good son-of-a-bitch because Rufus had not stopped by Joe Barber's house to pick him up and bring him to work; that Rufus Person answered him by telling him Joe Barber's wife said he was not at home; that Joe Barber did not have a bottle of wine and offer wine to Rufus Person; that after they went to work and had been spray painting for about half an hour he saw and heard Rufus Person and Joe Barber talking in a loud and angry tone, but the distance precluded him from hearing what they were shouting at each other about; that Rufus Person was holding equipment in both hands and he, Joe Barber, shoved Rufus Person, causing him to fall and injure himself.

On the basis of the foregoing evidence the referee found that the original dispute had ended in the washroom and a sufficient cooling off period had elapsed so that the assault was not a continuation of that dispute. Finding no evidence as to the reason for the assault, the referee fround it 'unprovoked and unexplained,' and compensable under the 1969 amendment to Section 287.120, RSMo, V.A.M.S.

In reversing the referee's award, the Industrial Commission, while agreeing that the assault was unprovoked, found that the testimony of both the employee and co-employee showed directly or by inference how the injury occurred and therefore no presumption existed that the assault arose out of claimant's employment. The Commission further found that the employment merely furnished an occasion for the assault which was 'a personal matter unconnected with the work duties of either Person or Barber.'

Claimant contends that the Industrial Commission misconstrued the 1969 amendment to Section 287.120(1), RSMo, V.A. M.S. (the section of the Workmen's Compensation Statute which defines compensable accident) which, claimant argues, makes compensable all assaults except those wherein the claimant is the aggressor; that the determination by the Industrial Commission that the assault arose from an earlier personal quarrel is not supported by the evidence; and that even if the finding that the assault arose out of the earlier dispute is supported by the evidence the injury is compensable since the quarrel, which concerned claimant's failure to bring Barber to work, was connected with the employment.

Prior to amendment Section 287.120(1) read:

If both employer amd employee have elected to accept the provisions of this chapter, the employer shall be liable irrespective of negligence, to furnish compensation under the provisions of this chapter for personal injury or death of the employee by accident arising out of and in the course of his employument, and shall be released from all other liability therefor whatsoever, whether to the employee or any other person.

The 1969 amendment added the following sentence to the above paragraph:

The term 'accident' as used in this section shall include, but not be limited to, injury or death of the employee eaused by the unprovoked violence or assault against the employee by any person.

Claimant contends that since the Industrial Commission found that he did not provoke the assault, his injuries are compensable. The Commission, however, concluded that if the legislature had intended that result '. . . the single term 'accident,' used in the amendment, would have been expanded to read 'accident arising out of and in the course of employment.''

In construing a statute, in an endeavor to determine the legislative intent, it is appropriate to consider its history, the presumption that the legislature had knowledge of the law, the surrounding circumstances and the purpose and object to be accomplished. Protection Mutual Insurance Co. v. Kansas City, 504 S.W.2d 127 (Mo.1974).

At the outset of our task of seeking to determine the legislative intent involved in the 1969 amendment of the instant statute we consider it helpful to review the state of the law prior to that amendment concerning the compensability of injuries received when employees are assaulted. Such is well stated in Liebman v. Colonial Baking Company, 391 S.W.2d 948, 951 (Mo.App.1965), as follows:

'The assault doctrine has been fully developed in Missouri. It is possible to illustrate its scope and method by examples remarkably free of the contradictions that have attended its use in some other jurisdictions. Assaults divide conveniently into three classes. Larson's Workmen's Compensation Law, Sec. 7, p. 48 et seq.; Sec. 11, p. 131 et seq.; Kelly (Kelly) v. Sohio Chemical Co., Mo.App., 383 S.W.2d 146, 147.

'1st: Those which are invited by the dangerous nature of the employee's duties, or by the dangerous environment in which he is required to perform them, or are the outgrowth of frictions generated by the work itself, but which in either event, are invariably revealed to be the result of some risk directly attributable to the employment. Injuries resulting from assaults of that character are compensable in Missouri. Typical examples may be found in Hacker v. City of Potosi, Mo., 351 S.W.2d 760, where a policeman was shot while investigating a traffic violation, and in Macalik v. Planter's Realty Co., Mo.App., 144 S.W.2d 158, where a foreman was murdered in retaliation for having fired the assailant's son. See also, Reed v. Sensenbaugh, 229 Mo.App. 883, 86 S.W.2d 388; Carlton v. Henwood, 232 Mo.App. 165, 115 S.W.2d 172; O'Dell v. Lost Trail, inc., 339 Mo. 1108, 100 S.W.2d 289; Kaiser v. Reardon Co., 355 Mo. 157, s95 S.W.2d 477; Stephens v. Spunk Iron & Foundry Co., 358 Mo. 372, 214 S.W.2d 534; Pearce v. Modern Sand & Gravel Co., 231 Mo.App. 823, 99 S.W.2d 850; Keithley v. Stone & Webster Engineering Corp., 226 Mo.App. 1122, 49 S.W.2d 296; and Daugherty v. City of Monett, 238 Mo.App. 924, 192 S. W.2d 51.

'2nd: Those committed in the course of private quarrels that are purely personal to the participants. Injuries resulting from assaults of that character are non-compensable in Missouri. Typical examples may be found in Lardge v. Concrete Products Mfg. Co., Mo., 251 S.W.2d 49, where the employee was struck in retaliation for his charge that the assailant had stolen his wine, and in Foster v. Aines Farm Dairy Co., mo., 263 S.W.2d 421, where the fatal quarrel was triggered by the participants' community of interest in the victim's wife. See also, Toole v. Bechtel Corp., Mo., 291 S.W.2d 874, and Staten v. Long-Turner Const. Co., Mo.App., 185 S.W.2d 375.

'3rd: Irrational, unexplained or accidental assaults of so-called 'neutral' origin, which, although they occur 'in the course of' the victim's employment, cannot be attributed to it on any more rational basis than that the employment afforded a convenient occasion for the attack to take place. In some jurisdictions that circumstance is regarded as a sufficient reason for awarding compensation; but not in Missouri. Examples may be found in Ries v. De Bord Plumbing Co., Mo.App., 186 S. W.2d 488, where the employee was assulted at his assigned place of work by a stranger with no apparent motive; In Kelly (Kelley) v. Sohio Chemical Co., supra, where the employee was struck down from behind in her office by an unknown assailant for no discoverable reason; in May v. Ozark Central Telephone Co., supra, (Mo.App., 272 S.W.2d 845), where, for the sake of the discussion, it was assumed that the employee had been...

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