Smith v. Container General Corp.

Decision Date04 April 1990
Docket NumberNo. 07-CC-58803,07-CC-58803
Citation559 So.2d 1019
PartiesPearly Marion SMITH v. CONTAINER GENERAL CORPORATION and Northbrook Property and Casualty Insurance Company.
CourtMississippi Supreme Court

Thomas D. Berry, Jr., Gulfport, for appellant.

David L. Cobb, Bryan Nelson Allen Schroeder & Cobb, Mark W. Garriga, Bryan Nelson Allen Firm, Gulfport, for appellees.


SULLIVAN, Justice, for the Court:

This is an appeal from a judgment rendered in a workers' compensation case from the Circuit Court of the First Judicial District of Harrison County, the Honorable Kosta Vlahos, presiding, affirming a decision of the Mississippi Workers' Compensation Commission. In that decision, the Commission ruled that an employee, Pearly Marion Smith, was not entitled to workers' compensation benefits in connection with an idiopathic fall caused by an alcohol withdrawal seizure while on the job at Container General Corporation. From this adverse judgment, Pearly Marion Smith appeals to this Court. Finding that the lower court erred in its application of the law, we reverse and remand.

On March 24, 1983, Pearly Marion Smith (Pearly) suffered a fractured left elbow while on the job at the Chattanooga Glass Company, currently the Container General Corporation (Container). Because of these injuries, Pearly was disabled for a period of time and received workers' compensation benefits until his return to work in December, 1983. On February 29, 1984, while on the job at Container, Pearly fell at work. It is from this second accident that the current dispute arises.

As to this second accident, the parties have stipulated the following:

1. That Pearly Smith fell while working on February 29, 1984, as a result of alcohol withdrawal syndrome.

2. That the floor area where Pearly Smith worked consisted of an approximately three foot wide rubber mat covering a concrete floor upon which the workers stood.

3. That there was a wooden pallet approximately five to six inches high next to Pearly Smith.

4. That when Pearly Smith fell, his right shoulder struck the wooden pallet prior to striking the concrete; that Pearly Smith did not land on the rubber mat upon which the workers stood.

5. That Pearly Smith's ribs which were found to be fractured on February 29, 1984, were possibly fractured when CPR or artificial respiration was administered by one of Smith's fellow workers in an effort to get Mr. Smith to breath.

Based upon the evidence presented, the administrative law judge determined that Pearly's injuries were caused by risk, or condition, personal to Pearly, namely, alcohol withdrawal syndrome and rejected his claim for benefits. This finding was adopted by the Mississippi Workers' Compensation Commission on February 11, 1986. On April 28, 1987, the Circuit Court of Harrison County, First Judicial District, issued an order which affirmed the Commission's finding.


Pearly argues that the Commission erred in its determination that the injuries sustained in the February 29, 1984, fall were not causally related to his employment. Our jurisprudence has clearly established this Court's scope of review in a workers' compensation case. Recently in the case of Quitman Knitting Mill v. Smith, 540 So.2d 623, 626-627 (Miss.1989), quoting from Fought v. Stuart C. Irby Co., 523 So.2d 314, 317 (Miss.1988), this Court stated:

The Workers' Compensation Commission is the trier and finder of facts in a compensation claim, the findings of the Administrative Law Judge to the contrary notwithstanding. See, Dunn, Mississippi Workers' Compensation Sec. 284 (3d Ed.1982).... this Court will reverse the Commission's order only if it finds that order clearly erroneous and contrary to the overwhelming weight of the evidence.

The current statutory language of Sec. 71-3-3(b), Mississippi Code Annotated (1972), as Amended, provides:

"Injury" means accidental injury or accidental death arising out of and in the course of employment without regard to fault which results from an untoward event or events, if contributed to or aggravated or accelerated by the employment in a significant manner.

At the time of Pearly's fall, Sec. 71-3-3(b), Mississippi Code Annotated (1972), in pertinent part, provided, " 'Injury' means accidental injury or accidental death arising out of and in the course of employment...."

Of relevance to our analysis, Sec. 71-3-7, Mississippi Code Annotated (1972), provides in part, "Compensation shall be payable for disability or death of an employee from injury or occupational disease arising out of and in the course of employment, without regard to cause of the injury or occupational disease."

Generally, "arising out of and in the course of employment" has been interpreted as requiring a causal connection between the injury and the conditions under which the work is required to be performed. See Dunn, Mississippi Workmens' Compensation, Sec. 156 (3d Ed.1982); Earnest v. Interstate Life and Acc. Ins. Co., 238 Miss. 648, 119 So.2d 782 (1960).

Counsel for Container cites Malone & Hyde of Tupelo, Inc. v. Hall, 183 So.2d 626 (Miss.1966), for the proposition that because an injury occurs while the claimant is on the job, the situs of the injury alone does not necessarily imply that the injury is compensable under the Workers' Compensation Act. In that case, the claimant suffered injury to his lower back after he coughed or sneezed while driving a truck for his employer. In reinstating the finding of the Commission that there was no causal connection between the claimant's employment and his disability, this Court stated:

The testimony in the record was, if not overwhelming, amply substantial to support the Commission's finding that the condition of the appellee was primarily due to a degenerated intervertebral disk which had pre-existed the date of the claimed injury; that the cough or sneeze was completely unrelated to the employment.

183 So.2d at 629-630.

The situation in Malone & Hyde is clearly distinguishable from the one at hand. In that case, the claimant's injury was in no way causally connected to his employment. In this case, Pearly's alleged injuries were caused from falling upon and striking his employer's floor. In the former case, it was not a work related risk which caused that claimant's back injury. In the current case, the employer's floor provided the risk.

Controlling authority for Pearly's position is found in Chapman, Dependents of v. Hanson Scale Co., 495 So.2d 1357, 1360-1361 (Miss.1986). In that case, a worker died on the job as a result of an idiopathic fall and fatally striking his head upon the concrete floor on his employer's premises. Evidence suggested that the fall was a result of a grand mal seizure. The Commission adopted the Administrative Judge's finding that the worker's death was not causally related to his employment and was the product of a grand mal seizure. The circuit court affirmed. However, in reversing and holding this accident to be compensable, this Court stated:

Injury or death arises out of and in the course of employment even when the employment merely aggravates, accelerates or contributes to the injury. See Dunn, Mississippi Workers' Compensation Sec. 164 (3d Ed.1982).

A familiar concept in workers' compensation law is that the employer takes the worker as the worker is found--with all the strengths and weaknesses the worker brings to the job. If a lame worker suffers an employment fall and is injured, the injury is said to arise out of and in the course of employment under the same test for workers not lame ... if an awkward worker stumbles and falls, the rule is the same as if the worker were agile. (Citations omitted).

The facts presented in Chapman and in the case at hand are strikingly similar. In Chapman, the decedent fell as a result of a grand mal seizure and struck his head on the concrete floor. In the current case, Pearly fell as a result of alcohol withdrawal syndrome, striking a wooden pallet before striking the concrete floor. This Court in Chapman stated:

Without contradiction Chapman's death was caused when his head struck the concrete floor of his employer's premises. We regard the floor as an appurtenance of the employer's premises the same as any other piece of equipment. Both are collisions by the worker with an appurtenance of the employment, both are encounters by the worker with an employment risk, both contribute to the injury ... and as a matter of law both arise out of and in the course of employment. (Emphasis supplied).

495 So.2d at 1360.

Without doubt, the Commission failed in its application of the law in evaluating this claim and this error prejudiced Pearly. Chapman established as a basic tenet of Workers' Compensation law in Mississippi that any injury sustained by an employee resulting from a fall upon a work premise floor is a confrontation with a condition of employment which contributed to the employee's injury and "arises out of and in the course of employment" as a matter of law.

Pearly's accident arose under the pre-1988 definition of "injury" and it is from that perspective that this decision is made. However, nothing in Sec. 71-3-3, Mississippi Code Annotated (1972), as Amended in 1988, alters this Court's view. In the case of such a fall as experienced by Pearly, "the employment in a significant manner" contributed to or aggravated the injury.


Container urges that regardless of whether the Commission applied an...

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