U.S. Cas. Co. v. Maryland Cas. Co.

Decision Date05 October 1951
Citation55 So.2d 741
CourtFlorida Supreme Court

Heskin A. Whittaker, Orlando, for appellant.

Maguire, Voorhis & Wells, Orlando, for appellees.

HOBSON, Justice.

This is a workmen's compensation case wherein there was conflicting evidence before the Deputy Commissioner upon the question of whether an injury sustained by Louis A. Livingston on April 14th, 1949 was an aggravation, and a manifestation of the continuance, of an injury which he suffered in the course of his employment on a prior date, to-wit: June 11th, 1948, or a new accident and a new injury.

The Deputy Commissioner, the only arbiter before whom the witnesses appeared and testified, found as a matter of fact that the accident of April 14th, 1949, was one from which an injury evolved that 'was the result of the prior injury of June 11th, 1948, and a manifestation of the continuance of that injury and an aggravation of said prior injury.'

Upon appeal to the full Commission, the Deputy Commissioner's findings and award were affirmed.

This order of affirmance was appealed to the Circuit Court of the Ninth Judicial Circuit in and for Orange County, Florida. The Circuit Judge who heard the appeal reversed the order of affirmance which had been entered by the full Commission, and in his order stated, 'I do not think it can be said that from the evidence as a whole that the second injury (April 14th 1949) was a recurrence of the first (June 11th, 1948) or a result of it; but the evidence shows that the April 14th, 1949, incident was in fact a new accident and a new injury.'

On June 11th, 1948, Maryland Casualty Company was the carrier while on April 14th, 1949, the United States Casualty Company occupied such position. Thus it may be seen that if the accident of April 14th, 1949, 'was in fact a new accident' and resulted in 'a new injury', the United States Casualty Company was responsible for the medical expense incurred by claimant on account of such injury. On the other hand, if, as was determined by the Deputy Commissioner upon the conflicting evidence which he heard and evaluated, said accident produced an injury which was but an aggravation and a manifestation of the continuance of the former injury, the Maryland Casualty Company was responsible for the medical expense incurred by claimant.

It is crystal clear that our burden upon this appeal is to determine for the benefit of the bench and bar, as well as the Florida Industrial Commission, just what weight the full Commission should give to the Deputy Commissioner's findings of facts when such findings are before said Commission at the time it performs its statutory duty of considering 'the matter upon the record * * *.' (Italics supplied.) In considering this matter we should also decide whether under existing statutory law we should adhere to our pronouncement that 'they probity of the evidence is for the Industrial Commission to determine and their findings should not be reversed unless shown to be clearly erroneous.' (Italics supplied.) See Sonny Boy's Fruit Co. v. Compton, Fla., 46 So.2d 17, 18, and cases cited therein.

We believe the confusions wrought by our opinions developed by virtue of the fact that after the 1941 amendments of Sections 440.25 and 440.27, Florida Statutes 1941, F.S.A., we inadvertently continued to follow our earlier pronouncement that 'the probity of the evidence is for the Industrial Commission to determine and their findings should not be reversed unless shown to be clearly erroneous', and failed to consider the amendments of said sections which were made by the legislature during its 1941 session. Prior to said amendments the law provided: 'The hearing may be conducted by a deputy commissioner, or by any member of the Commission * * *' and that 'It an application for review is made to the Commission within seven days from the date of notice of the award, the full Commission shall review the evidence or, if deemed advisable, as soon as practicable, hear the parties at issue, their representatives and witnesses * * *.' Laws 1937, c. 18413, § 11. (Italics supplied.) As amended, the law reads as follows: 'The hearing shall be conducted by a deputy commissioner * * *' (italics supplied) and, in lieu of the provision that the full commission might hear the witnesses and in effect conduct a hearing de novo, it was provided by the 1941 amendment that 'The full commission shall consider the matter upon the record as prepared and certified by the deputy commissioner * * *.' (Italics supplied.)

Section 440.25, supra, as amended, in addition to providing that the hearing shall be conducted by a deputy commissioner further provides that such deputy commissioner shall 'within twenty days after such hearing determine the dispute in a summary manner.' He is then empowered to make an award, designated in the Act as the 'compensation order;' and if no interested party makes or files an application for a review thereof by the full Commission within seven days after said compensation order is filed in the office of the Commission at Tallahassee, such order shall become final. Thus it may be seen that under the law now existing and which existed at the time the instant matter was first lodged with the Florida Industrial Commission, the deputy commissioner is charged with the duty of not only holding a hearing and making findings of facts, but it is also his obligation to enter the compensation order. Consequently, his position under the law is somewhat analogous to that of a Chancellor, and the full Commission occupies a position which in many ways is similar to that of an appellate court. After the deputy commissioner has held a hearing, made his findings of facts and entered the compensation order and a review is requested, the full Commission should adhere to the findings of fact so made by the deputy commissioner unless there is no competent substantial evidence to sustain them. This is so because of the aforementioned fact that under the law the deputy commissioner is the only person charged with the burden and responsibility of hearing the witnesses and making findings of facts. It is patent that the full Commission functions much in the same manner as does an appellate court, although it is quasi judicial rather than strictly so.

There is a difference under existing law between the positions of a deputy commissioner and the full Commission, and those of a special master and a chancellor. The chancellor, of course, should give due consideration to the findings of facts made by a special master and should consider the many advantages which the master had in personally hearing and observing the witnesses. Harmon v. Harmon, Fla., 40 So.2d 209. However, although the Chancellor may use the services of a special master (he is not required to do so) and receive from him his advisory findings and recommendations, the fact remains that it is the Chancellor who under the law is charged with the duty and responsibility of making findings of facts and entering the final decree. He may, if he deems it necessary, conduct a hearing de novo as the full Commission under the old law was authorized to do. It is the Chancellor's decree just as it is the deputy commissioner's compensation order which becomes final by lapse of time, absent an appeal or request for review.

Evidently in those cases which were decided by this Court subsequent to the 1941 amendments, our attention was not called to the impact of such amendments on our former rule as to the weight to be given by the Circuit Court to the Commission's findings of facts, that is, that such findings should not be overruled if there was competent substantial evidence to support them. Under the law as it existed prior to 1941 it was the full Commission which was charged with the duty and responsibility of making findings of facts and of entering its compensation order. Chapter 18413, Laws of Florida 1937. The analogy between the duties and responsibilities of the full Commission, prior to 1941, and those of a chancellor is apparent.

Under the law as it presently exists, the full Commission, the Circuit Court and this Court must evaluate the evidence upon a consideration of a cold typewritten transcript which was not the case with the full Commission before the enactment of the 1941 amendments for it, under the original law, had the same right that a chancellor has consistently possessed to call in the witnesses or additional witnesses and conduct a hearing de novo. Moreover, it was required to use the services of a deputy commissioner. The reasons which gave rise to the rule, that this Court should not substitute its judgment for that of the chancellor or jury and reverse the findings of facts made by either unless there is no competent, substantial evidence which sustains them, exist whenever any person or group of persons may be clothed with authority to hear testimony and charged by law with the duty of deciding questions of fact.

Any fact-finding individual, group or board created as such by lawful authority is at least acting in a quasi-judicial capacity and as such fact-finding arbiter his, or its, findings are entitled to great weight and should not be reversed unless there is no competent, substantial evidence which supports such findings. See Nelson v. State, ex rel. Quigg, 156 Fla. 189, 23 So.2d 136. In connection with this principle it is not at all significant that 'a case' as contemplated in and by our Constitution does not come into existence until the award reaches the Circuit Court for review. See South Atlantic S. S. Co. of Delaware v. Tutson et al., 139 Fla. 405, 190 So. 675. Such fact does not destroy the reasons for the rule. However, as we have frequently held, the ruling of the full Commission does not reach the Circuit Court with a presumption of correctness, Florida Forest and...

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