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Inland Steel Co. v. Industrial Com.

OPINION FILED NOVEMBER 18, 1959

INLAND STEEL COMPANY, DEFENDANT IN ERROR,

v.

INDUSTRIAL COMMISSION ET AL. — (MINNIE HELEN HELMKE, PLAINTIFF IN ERROR.)



WRIT OF ERROR to the Superior Court of Cook County; the Hon. GEORGE M. FISHER, Judge, presiding.

MR. JUSTICE BRISTOW DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Rehearing denied January 18, 1960.

This court has allowed the petition for writ of error filed by plaintiff in error, Minnie Helen Helmke, to review a judgment of the superior court of Cook County, setting aside an award of the Industrial Commission for the death of her husband, allegedly as a result of accidental injuries arising out of and in the course of his employment for defendant in error, Inland Steel Company.

Inasmuch as the essential inquiry in this cause is whether the superior court erred in concluding that the death benefit award was contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence, it is incumbent upon us to review the record.

It appears that on October 26, 1954, some 10 days prior to the alleged accident, decedent, an electrician employed by the defendant company for some 28 years, was given a preretirement physical examination, since he was 65 years old. The report disclosed some hypertension, his blood pressure being 170 over 96, and some myocardial changes of a sclerotic nature, but was marked "O.K." It was also revealed that the electrocardiogram showed no coronary insufficiency, and that the cardio-vascular outlines were well within normal limits. Decedent's retention in employment apparently indicated that he had passed the examination.

There was testimony that prior to November 5, 1954, the day of the alleged accident, decedent enjoyed good health and was "jokey, and very friendly and very active." His helper, Anthony Balassone, who had worked with him for several years, described him as "agile," "active" and "cheerful," and stated that decedent never missed a day of work.

On November 5, 1954, according to Balassone's testimony, he and decedent were wiring up a forced air heater, and as decedent put his hand into the switch box to install the fuse, he immediately "hollered" that the switch box was "hot," and jumped back about four feet, reacting "in a frightened manner like shock." Balassone explained that "hot" meant that the wire had some live electricity running through it, and that the switch box was "hot" when the switch handle was in the "off" position.

The helper immediately informed Davis, the assistant foreman of the Electrical Department, that decedent had received a "shock" or jolt, and Davis found that the switch box, which bore the specifications of 440 volts, 3-phase, 60 cycle, 30 amperes and 7 1/2 horsepower, was defective. According to Davis's testimony, the switch handle was in the "off" position, but the blades of the switch were jammed in, causing the top fuse clips to be "alive," so that anyone touching the clips while installing the fuse would get some electric current, "as much current as could find its way to the ground under a pressure of 440 volts." Davis then repaired the switch. He further testified that decedent told him that "those fuse clips were live," and that he replied, "Yes, I know it." He then asked decedent how he felt, and decedent replied, "All right."

Decedent worked the remaining two hours of November 5, and the next day, which was Saturday. The following week he worked the night shift, while his helper, Balassone, and Davis continued working days, and, therefore, saw decedent only briefly when he came to work at the change of shifts. Davis testified that decedent seemed natural, and did his work "as always," and that there was no occasion to pay any particular attention to decedent as distinguished from any of the other 20 employees under his supervision.

Decedent's wife testified that between the time of this electric shock and his death one week later, she observed a marked physical and mental change in him. He seemed very depressed and looked like he was in pain because he kept rubbing the back of his head with both hands. A day or so prior to his death, while they were sleeping, decedent suddenly thrust out his arms in a piston-like motion. It woke her, and when she tried to hold him down, she felt a "terrible pull." She woke decedent and he just looked at her and went back to sleep. This was repeated several times, although it had never occurred before.

On the morning of November 11, 1954, decedent took his wife to work, as he had each morning while he was on the night shift. He arrived at his own job at 5 P.M., and was assigned the job of standby electrician, to provide light and handle miscellaneous tasks while repairs were under way on a flange motor jack which had broken down prior to his arrival. A fellow employee, Otto Helmke, no relation to decedent, testified that he saw decedent four or five times during the evening, and that decedent then appeared normal, but that at 5 A.M., after decedent had worked approximately twelve hours, decedent came over to him at the substation and complained that his head hurt. He then appeared white and was holding the back of his head. Decedent commented that he thought the air compressor was turned off, although it was not, and had been running continually.

Decedent remained at the substation about 10 minutes, and then remarked that he had better go home. After being assured that his duties would be taken over by the fellow employee, decedent washed up. As he left, he walked slowly, carefully and unsteadily, and when the fellow employee said, "I'll see you tomorrow night, Otto," decedent answered, "Maybe, if I ain't dead by that time."

When decedent arrived home he had, according to the testimony of his wife, "a funny look on his face." He was pale, but had fiery red cheeks, and appeared to be in great pain and chilled. He vomited and bubbles of perspiration stood out on his face. His wife went to a neighbor's home to telephone a doctor, and when she returned she heard a death rattle, and decedent died. Resuscitation efforts of the pulmotor squad and the doctor were ineffectual.

Six medical witnesses testified before the Industrial Commission. Doctors Maurice O. Grossman, Victor Levine and Max Sadove testified in response to the hypothetical question incorporating the evidence that there could or might be a causal connection between the episode of electric shock on November 5, 1954, and the death of decedent the morning of November 12, 1954. Doctors Eric Oldberg, George Coe and Jerry J. Kearns ...


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