Southern Cotton Oil Co. v. Bruce, 8 Div. 388.

CourtSupreme Court of Alabama
Citation32 So.2d 666,249 Ala. 675
Docket Number8 Div. 388.
Decision Date06 November 1947

Rehearing Denied Dec. 4, 1947.

A H. Carmichael, of Tuscumbia, and Peach, Caddell & Shanks of Decatur, for appellant.

McDonnell & Jones, of Sheffield, for appellee.

LAWSON Justice.

Certiorari was granted on petition of the Southern Cotton Oil Company, a corporation, to review a decree of the circuit court of Colbert County awarding compensation to the widow and minor children of Ben Bruce, deceased, for the death of their husband and father, who at the time of his death was an employee of the said company.

The proceedings were instituted in the trial court under the Alabama Workmen's Compensation Law, Chapter 5, Title 26, Code of 1940 by Mrs. Lue Bruce, the widow, who sued on her own behalf and that of the minor children.

The trial judge made a full statement of the facts, his conclusions thereon, and his views of the law applicable thereto. Petitioner does not challenge the material facts as found by the trial judge. The finding of facts is as follows:

'Ben F. Bruce, deceased, was employed at the time of his death in August, 1943, and since the year 1926 as a night watchman by the defendant company, Southern Cotton Oil Company, a Corporation. The Company was doing business in Sheffield Alabama, employing more than sixteen employees and was subject to and governed by the provisions of the Workmen's Compensation Law of Alabama as was the said Bruce.

'Bruce's average weekly earnings were $37.10. The plaintiff, Mrs. Lue Bruce, was his wife. Surviving in addition to his widow were two minor children, all three being totally dependent on Bruce for maintenance and support.

'The defendant Company operated a Cotton Oil Mill, being engaged in the processing of cotton seed for the purpose of obtaining cotton seed oil therefrom. The Plant consisted of about three acres of land on which there were ten buildings, among them being an office building. Bruce's duties as night watchman included watching and guarding the whole of the plant against thievery, fire, depredation and other destructive forces. He carried a key to all buildings including the office building. His work hours were from 6:00 P. M. to 6:00 A. M. His immediate superior was J. B. Thompson who had a son, a very young boy, known affectionately by Bruce and most all the officials and employees as 'Sonny.' Sonny frequently visited the Plant with the knowledge of the officials. Bruce, the deceased, and Sonny were particularly good friends and pals. It was common knowledge of the officials that Sonny often made the rounds of the buildings with Mr. Bruce and played in the Company yard.

'On August 18, 1943, when Sonny's mother came for her husband between 6:00 and 6:30 P. M. she brought Sonny in her car and left him at the Plant. As Bruce was completing his first round of checking the other buildings Sonny and Mr. Bruce were seen together walking toward the office building. Sonny had a toy pistol. Mr. Bruce had before made inquiries as to where he could obtain leather with which to make Sonny a holster for the toy pistol. Mr. Bruce had been and was interested in making a holster for Sonny and this was known by Bruce's immediate superior. As the two approached the office building, Mr. Bruce said to Sonny: 'I'll give you a holster.'

'Mr. Bruce carried his own pistol, a 45-calibre one, on his person in his work. In the office in the desk drawer of the Company Cashier was a Company owned 32-calibre pistol which was in a holster loaned to the Company by Mr. Bruce. Bruce had at times, though infrequently, used both pistols in his work. He used the Company pistol with the knowledge and acquiescence of the Company officials with which to shoot rats in the Company buildings or on the Company property. The Company-owned 32-pistol--'the pistol with which Mr. Bruce was shot--was kept on the premises by the Company to be used by any of the employees of the defendant Company who had not been equipped with a pistol for protecting the employees and the property of the defendant Company, and it was not entrusted by the Company to any definite employee but was kept in the desk which was used by H. E. Jeffry, Jr., Cashier, where it was located on the day Mr. Bruce was shot.' (Quotation from defendant's answers to Interrogatories.)

'Mr. Bruce and Sonny came into the office from the back door. Sonny laid his toy pistol on Mr. Jeffry's desk. Mr. Bruce opened the desk drawer, secured the Company pistol, removed it from his holster, laid the Company pistol down on the desk and picked up Sonny's toy pistol. Sonny mean while playing around the office returned to the desk, picked up the pistol which was at that moment lying thereon, that is, the Company owned 32 pistol, and pulled the trigger, shooting Mr. Bruce. Bruce died therefrom shortly.

'The shot was heard about four or five minutes after Bruce and Sonny, in very close proximity to the office building, were seen walking toward that building. The office with Company knowledge and acquiescence served as Bruce's headquarters or 'hangout.' He kept his coat and hat and his personal belongings there. He answered the 'phone for the Company there when other employees had gone from work or were not there. Sometimes he ate there. There was ice water in the office for himself and other employees. At times he used the office for weighing in and making record of cotton seed brought to the Company after regular hours in its regular trade when the regular workmen employed for that purpose had left the Company's premises for the day. At the time of the shooting, however, there was no cotton seed there to be weighed and checked in or out. All other employees had left the premises, the day's work being over,--there were no witnesses to the shooting.

'Bruce often went to the office between his hourly rounds of checking the other buildings. The Superintendent's office, a toilet and storeroom were in the same office building.'

Based on such findings the trial court concluded 'that the accident causing Bruce's death arose out of his employment and in the course of his employment and that the defendant is liable for compensation therefor.'

This court long ago announced the rule governing our review of cases arising under the Workmen's Compensation Act. We have uniformly held that if there is any reasonable view of the evidence that will support the conclusion reached by the trial court, the finding and judgment will not be disturbed. Ex parte Sloss-Sheffield Steel & Iron Co., 207 Ala. 219, 92 So. 458. For later cases see Houser v. Young, 247 Ala. 562, 25 So.2d 421; Malbis Bakery Co., Inc., v. Collins, 245 Ala. 84, 15 So.2d 705.

Petitioner, defendant below, in its answer admitted that at the time Bruce was killed he was an employee of that company and that both parties are subject to the Workmen's Compensation Law.

As before indicated, petitioner does not seriously question the trial court's statement of the facts. Petitioner does insist, however, that the facts as found by the trial court do not warrant the conclusion reached that Bruce met his death as a result of an accident which arose out of and in the course of his employment.

Therefore, the precise legal question presented to this court is whether the evidence as stated by the trial court, or the reasonable inferences therefrom, tend to support the conclusion of the trial court that the deceased was killed in an accident which arose out of and in the course of his employment.

That the deceased employee met his death as a result of an accident is not controverted. We think it clear that his death was accidental within the meaning of the statute. Boris Const. Co. v. Haywood, 214 Ala. 162, 106 So. 799; Ex parte Rosengrant, 213 Ala. 202, 104 So. 409; Dean v. Stockham Pipe & Fittings Co., 220 Ala. 25, 123 So. 225; McLaughlin v. Davis Lumber Co., 220 Ala. 440, 125 So. 608.

But in order for compensation to be awarded the accident which caused his death must have arisen out of and in the course of his employment.

The phrase 'arises out of' employment refers to employment as the cause and source of the accident. Garrett v. Gadsden Cooperage Co., 209 Ala. 223, 96 So. 188. 'We have written into our law the words of the Madden's Case, 222 Mass. 487, 111 N.E. 379, L.R.A.1916D, 1000, to wit: 'The rational mind must be able to trace the resultant injury to a proximate cause set in motion by the employment, and not by some other agency.' Also the following (Garrett v. Gadsden Cooperage Co. [supra]): 'In Hinchuk v. Swift & Co., 149 Minn. 1, 182 N.W. 622, it is said that the principle applicable to cases like that at bar is that the injury is included within the statute if there is some causal relation between the employment and the injury; the court adding: 'Not that the injury must be one which ought to have been foreseen, but it must be one which, after the event, may be seen to have had its origin in the nature of the employment.''' Dean v. Stockham Pipe & Fittings Co., supra [220 Ala. 25, 123 So. 227].

We have in this jurisdiction two decisions by this court where compensation was held to have been correctly awarded where employees met their death as a result of accidental shootings. In both of them it was held that the evidence was clear to the effect that the deceased received the injury which caused his death in the course of his employment. It appears that the question for decision in both cases was whether the accident arose out of the employment.

In Ex parte Rosengrant, 213 Ala. 202, 104 So. 409, 412, the duties of the deceased employee were to grade and tally lumber as it was removed from barges on the Mobile River into the planing mill of the employer, which...

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    • 3 May 1996, and while he is reasonably fulfilling duties of his employment or engaged in doing something incident to it. Southern Cotton Oil Co. v. Bruce, 249 Ala. 675, 32 So.2d 666. [ (1947) ]"3 An employee claiming to have been injured by a sudden and traumatic external event (an "accident" in th......
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