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Lawskills.com Georgia Caselaw
HARDWARE MUTUAL CASUALTY COMPANY et al. v. KING.
38995.
Workmen's compensation. Fulton Superior Court. Before Judge Alverson.
TOWNSEND, Presiding Judge.
The burden is upon the claimant in a workmen's compensation case to show that death resulted from an accident arising out of and in the course of the employment. Where an employee is found dead, from unknown causes, and there are no marks of violence upon the body, and it is just as plausible to assume that the death resulted from natural causes not associated with the employment as that the employee sustained an accident within the meaning of the act, the claimant has failed to carry the burden of showing an accident arising out of the employment.
Mrs. Lois King filed a claim with the State Board of Workmen's Compensation for death benefits against Baldwin Foundry & Machine Corp., employer of her deceased husband, and its insurer Hardware Mutual Casualty Co. The claimant attempted to show that the employee's death was the result of exertion sufficient to precipitate a heart attack, a question as to which the medical testimony was scanty and contradictory. The award granting compensation reads in part as follows: "From the evidence in record, I find that the duties required of Mr. Charles B. King of February 22, 1959, as a watchman were as follows: He was required each hour to walk a total of approximately 1,000 feet on level ground, making a stop at five different stations, and turn a key, indicating that he had visited each station during the hour. I find from the evidence that on February 22, 1959, said Charles B. King commenced his rounds at 12 noon, and made each subsequent round thereafter, stopping at each of the five stations, through 9 p.m. of said day. From the evidence, l find as a matter of fact that about 10:15 p.m. said Charles B. King was found dead at a desk in the office of his employer, and that his supper was spread before him at said time. There was no evidence of any outside agent, or violence, that produced the death of said Charles B. King at said time and said date . . . It is impossible for me to make a finding in this case as to the cause of the death of Mr. Charles B. King . . . I cannot conclude that the exertion of the deceased on said date was the cause of his death, nor can I conclude from the evidence that the deceased actually died from a heart attack, if so, the nature of the same. I therefore find that the deceased died on said date at time and place aforesaid, from cause or causes unknown. From all the evidence in the record I find as a matter of fact that the claimant, having been found dead in a place where he might reasonably be expected to be in the performance of his duties, the natural presumption arises that his death arose out of and in the course of his employment. Based on this presumption, and the same not having been rebutted by competent evidence which is contrary to or irreconcilable with it, I find as a matter of fact that the claimant suffered an accidental injury which arose out of and in the course of his employment within the meaning of the act. I make this finding in accordance with the principle of law set forth in the case of Hartford Accident & Indemnity Co. v. Cox, 101 Ga. App. 789 (115 SE2d 452). I am not wholly in agreement with the principle of law as enumerated therein, but I am required by law to follow the same."
This award was affirmed by the Superior Court of Fulton County, on which latter judgment error is assigned.
1. The claimant in a workmen's compensation case must always carry the burden of showing that death resulted from an accident arising out of and in the course of the employment. Fulton Bag &c. Mills v. Haynie, 43 Ga. App. 579 (159 SE 781); Banks v. Ellijay Lumber Co., 59 Ga. App. 270 (200 SE 480); Travelers Ins. Co. v. Faulkner, 63 Ga. App. 438 (11 SE2d 367); Ralph v. Great American Indem. Co., 70 Ga. App. 115 (27 SE2d 756); Aetna Cas. &c. Co. v. Honea, 71 Ga. App. 569 (31 SE2d 421); Gay v. Aetna Cas. &c. Co., 72 Ga. App. 122 (33 SE2d 109); Clark v. Fitzgerald Mills Corp., 80 Ga. App. 312 (55 SE2d 762); Smith v. U. S. Fidelity &c. Co., 94 Ga. App. 507 (95 SE2d 35).
2. It has frequently been stated that where an employee is found dead in a place where he might reasonably be expected to be in the performance of his duties, the natural presumption arises that his death arose out of and in the course of his employment. Hartford Accident &c. Co. v. Cox, 101 Ga. App. 789 (115 SE2d 452); Williams v. Maryland Cas. Co., 99 Ga. App. 489 (109 SE2d 325); Fulmer v. Aetna Cas. &c. Co., 85 Ga. App. 102 (68 SE2d 180); Aetna Cas. &c. Co. v. Fulmer, 81 Ga. App. 97 (57 SE2d 865); Standard Accident Ins. Co. v. Kiker, 45 Ga. App. 706 (165 SE 850). In all such cases the cause of death is known and it appears that the death was accidental and not due to natural causes disassociated from the employment.
3. Where, however, there is no evidence establishing the cause of death, there are no marks of violence on the body, and it is just as reasonable to presume that the death resulted from natural causes not associated with the employment as from a cause or causes to which the employment contributed, then the claimant has failed to carry the burden of proving that the employee met his death as the result of an accident arising out of the employment. Shelby Mut. Cas. Co. v. Huff, 87 Ga. App. 463 (74 SE2d 251); Horner v. Hartford Accident &c. Co., 92 Ga. App. 569 (2) (89 SE2d 212).
4. We make no decision in this case as to whether the evidence is sufficient generally to sustain an award on the theory that the claimant died of a heart attack of which his employment was a contributing proximate cause for the reason that the director hearing the case himself rejected this theory on the ground that he was unable to decide from the evidence adduced whether such fact existed or not, and further specifically found that the cause of death was unknown. The case must be reversed because decided on an erroneous legal theory, that is, that in such event the presumption referred to above was sufficient to carry the burden of proof.
The judgment of the Judge of the Superior Court of Fulton County is reversed and the case remanded to the Board of Workmen's Compensation with direction that a new award be entered, giving effect to all the medical and other evidence in the record, and that the board may hear additional evidence in its discretion.
Judgment reversed with direction. Frankum and Jordan, JJ., concur.
Sanders Marshall, Edgar Neely, Greene, Neely, Buckley & DeRieux, for plaintiffs in error.
DECIDED JULY 14, 1961 -- REHEARING DENIED JULY 27, 1961.
Friday May 22 23:31 EDT


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