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Lawskills.com Georgia Caselaw
DEPARTMENT OF REVENUE v. GRAHAM.
38572.
Workmen's compensation. Coffee Superior Court. Before Judge Roddenberry. August 5, 1960.
CARLISLE, Judge.
1. The motion to dismiss is without merit and is denied.
2. Findings of fact by a deputy director of the State Board of Workmen's Compensation when supported by any evidence, and in the absence of fraud, are conclusive on the courts.
(a) The opinions of expert witnesses are advisory only and fact-finding bodies are not bound thereby, but may give credence to such opinions to the extent that they see fit to do so. This is especially true where such opinions are expressed with regard to matters coextensive with the entire investigation.
3. Where from the tenor and wording of the award, it is clear that the deputy director misconstrued and misinterpreted the evidence and applied an incorrect principle of law, a proper disposition of the case on appeal is to remand it to the board with instructions that it be considered in the light of a proper interpretation and construction of the evidence and upon the application of correct principles of law.
J. W. Graham filed his claim for workmen's compensation against the State Department of Revenue on account of disability allegedly sustained as the result of an accident arising out of and in the course of his employment. On the trial of the case, it appeared from the evidence that the claimant was a tax examiner working out of the sales tax office at Douglas, Georgia. On February 17, 1959, he left Douglas intending to make several calls on taxpayers at Dupont, Homerville and Pearson. On this particular trip he was accompanied by his wife, who, according to the testimony, went along merely for the ride. After having stopped at Dupont and Homerville and while driving his car on the way to Pearson, the claimant had "a funny feeling" and stopped his automobile and lay down on the back seat where he apparently "passed out." After regaining consciousness he was unable to continue his work. His wife drove the car home to Douglas and the claimant went to bed. Upon awakening on the morning of February 18, he found that he was paralyzed in his right arm and leg and was unable to speak coherently. Dr. Dan A. Jardine was summoned and diagnosed his condition as being due to a cerebral thrombosis on the left side. He was treated at home for this condition from February 18, 1959, to May 10, 1959. During this period he seemed to improve but his speech was still bad and he was still subject to aphasia. He was not able to go back to work, however. He was sent to Atlanta by his physician in May in an effort to determine whether or not he could be further aided by neurosurgery. This determination was negative, and while he was on his way back to Douglas he suffered a second attack and was brought back to Douglas in serious condition and hospitalized. His hospitalization continued until May 26, and after further treatment at home he recovered back to the state he was in before the second attack. No further improvement is expected. His vision is impaired; he cannot focus his eyes; he cannot read or write, and cannot talk clearly. As testified by Dr. Jardine, "he has lost coordination of speech and sight and writing and I think that is a permanent situation." Dr. Jardine further testified as an expert that mental strain and tension generally predisposes to this type of disease and aggravates it. The following question and answer thereto were given by the doctor on direct examination: "Doctor, as an expert, would you have a conclusion of your own that you could express as to whether or not this strain and tension would contribute to the injury? A. Well, I think
under the circumstances in which he was working at that time that he had, it did."
The evidence showed that several tax examiners in the Douglas office had, shortly before Mr. Graham's attack, been let out, or discharged, in administrative changes accompanying the change in state administrations; that Mr. Graham, a man 59 years of age, was extremely worried and under a great deal of strain, tension and worry that he might lose his job, and he felt severe pressure on him to make a good record in order to retain his job, and, consequently, had been working extremely hard.
The deputy director entered an award denying compensation. On appeal to the superior court the judge thereof reversed that award, holding that there was no basis or evidence sustaining the award of the director, and that the evidence showed that this is a compensable case under the Workmen's Compensation Act of Georgia.
1. The motion to dismiss the bill of exceptions or to affirm the case on the ground that the plaintiff in error has failed to brief the evidence is without merit. U. S. Fidelity &c. Co. v. Bowman, 36 Ga. App. 34 (1) (135 S. E. 319); Hood v. Jackson, 81 Ga. App. 465 (1) (59 S. E. 2d 45).
2. A finding of fact by a director, or deputy director of the State Board of Workmen's Compensation, when supported by any evidence and in the absence of fraud, is conclusive and binding upon the courts, and the judge of the superior court does not have any authority to set aside all award based on those findings of fact merely because he disagrees with the conclusions reached therein. Hartford Accident &c. Co. v. Davis, 73 Ga. App. 10 (35 S. E. 2d 521); Atlantic Steel Co. v. McLarty, 74 Ga. App. 300 (39 S. E. 2d 733). In this, as in all workmen's compensation cases, the burden of proof was on the claimant (Rivers v. Travelers Ins. Co., 93 Ga. App. 779 (1), 92 S. E. 2d 818), and in the final analysis, the claimant's case rested upon the expert testimony of his doctor as to the cause of his condition. The doctor stated unequivocally that in his opinion under the facts as he knew them to be, that is, the stress and strain under which the claimant was shown to have been working, the claimant's employment contributed to his condition. This testimony was uncontradicted. But, however strongly the judge of the superior court and the judges of this court might feel constrained to disagree with the award of the deputy director, no power resides in the courts to substitute their judgment for that of the deputy director. The weight and credit to be given to expert testimony is a question exclusively for decision by the fact-finding tribunal. American Mutual Liability Ins. Co. v. Brackin, 68 Ga. App. 256 (23 S. E. 2d 505); Continental Casualty Co. v. Bennett, 69 Ga. App. 683 (26 S. E. 2d 682). "Opinions of expert witnesses, while entitled to great weight, are advisory only, and the Board of Workmen's Compensation is bound thereby only to the extent to which it gives credence to such opinions. This is especially true where the opinion evidence is coextensive with the entire scope of investigation and would be decisive of the one issue to be determined by it." American Motorists Ins. Co. v. Blaylock, 84 Ga. App. 409 (66 S. E. 2d 126). Under the foregoing authorities, the deputy director was not bound to give any credence to the expert opinion of Dr. Jardine that there was any causal connection between the condition of the claimant resulting from a cerebral accident and his employment.
Upon careful consideration of the evidence in this case, it is clear that the deputy director misconstrued and misunderstood the evidence in the case and, in arriving at the results which he did, applied an incorrect principle of law. With reference to the first sentence of the quoted portion of the award, from the deputy director's statement therein that the doctor testified that strain and tension could contribute to such an attack, it is clear from reference to the evidence sent up with this record that the deputy director rendered the award based on an erroneous conception of what the testimony of Dr. Jardine had been. The doctor not only testified that such strain and tension, which the claimant was clearly shown to have been undergoing for a period of time prior to the time he had his attack, could contribute to such an attack, but the doctor testified that in his opinion it did contribute to the injury.
Likewise, it is apparent from the second sentence of the quoted portion of the award that the deputy director was laboring under the misapprehension that it was necessary for the claimant to show that he had been undergoing unusual stress and strain or overexertion, or that he had undergone such unusual stress and strain and overexertion immediately prior to suffering the attack. "It is immaterial that the physical exertion engaged in by an employee is not unusual or excessive and that the employer did not know about the employee's diseased condition." Bussey v. Globe Indemnity Co., 81 Ga. App. 401, 404 (2) (59 S. E. 2d 34), and cits.; Maryland Casualty Co. v. Dixon, 83 Ga. App. 172 (63 S. E. 2d 272).
This court feels that, in view of the apparent misinterpretation and misconstruction of the evidence and the application by the deputy director of an incorrect principle of law, the case should be remanded to the deputy director with instructions that he make the finding of an award based upon a proper consideration of the evidence in the light of pertinent legal principles applicable to the case as pointed out above. However, in view of the principles of law first announced above, it is improper for the judge of the superior court and for the judges of this court to presume to substitute their judgments for the judgment of the deputy director and/or directors of the State Board of Workmen's Compensation on the facts of the case, and no ruling is here made on what that judgment should or should not be. It follows that the judgment of the superior court reversing the case insofar as it had the effect of directing that the board enter an award granting compensation was improper, and the case is accordingly affirmed with direction that it be remanded to the board for consideration in the light of the principles herein announced.
Judgment affirmed with direction. Townsend, P. J., Frankum and Jordan, JJ., concur.
Marshall Ewing, J. S. Hutton, contra.
Eugene Cook, Attorney-General, John S. Harrison, Assistant Attorney-General, for plaintiff in error.
DECIDED NOVEMBER 30, 1960.
Saturday May 23 00:04 EDT


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