APPEAL from a decision and award of the Workmen's Compensation Board, filed October 20, 1952, for death benefits under the Workmen's Compensation Law.
John F. Gates for appellants.
Champlain & Sloan for claimant-respondent.
Nathaniel L. Goldstein, Attorney-General (Harry Pastor and Roy Wiedersum of counsel), for Workmen's Compensation Board, respondent.
On October 14, 1949, decedent received an accidental injury in the course of his employment, which resulted in an inguinal hernia. An operation was performed on October 28, 1949. Physically, the operation appears to have been successful. He went home from the hospital on November 4, 1949. On November 30, 1949, he committed suicide. The Workmen's Compensation Board has found that the injuries sustained in the accident, 'together with their resultant consequences and effects and said operation, caused him to develop a depressive psychosis and while suffering from said psychosis, he committed suicide on November 30, 1949. The suicide and death of Roy J. Maricle was the natural and unavoidable result of the accidental injuries sustained by him on October 14, 1949, and the consequences and effects resulting therefrom', and has awarded death benefits. Employer and its insurance carrier have appealed to this court from the decision and award.
The board's decision is attacked upon two grounds: first, the insufficiency of the findings in that there was no finding that deceased suffered from a brain derangement in the nature of a disease or that the death was not the result of his willful intention to take his own life; second, that there is no substantial evidence to support the findings that deceased suffered from a depressive psychosis and that the suicide and death were the natural and unavoidable results of the accidental injuries.
Testimony of the widow and statements of the employer and two coemployees, uncontradicted, picture the deceased, prior to his injury, as a cheerful and pleasant man and a pleasant and willing worker, never giving evidences of depression or despondency. There is clear proof of a distinct change in disposition from a time prior to entering the hospital until the day of his death. He is then pictured as abnormally depressed, fearful of being alone, nervous, unable to sleep, complaining constantly of a burning sensation and pains about his heart and body, apprehensive of the development of other physical troubles, that cancer had developed from the operation, that he would never be able to go back to work, and that he would become a burden on his wife. Noting these characteristics, his attending physician, Dr. Klein, attempted to encourage him and set a time for him to return to work. The doctor describes him on November 10th as seeming 'very empty, his eyes looked sort of far away when he was speaking to you.' Seeing decedent again on November 25th, the doctor was of the opinion he was developing a depressive psychosis, in which he might have committed suicide. On cross-examination he said, 'I didn't think he needed certification on the 25th, but where one draws the line is hard to say. In retrospect when we come to the natural conclusion of psychosis, which is suicide, I must say now he probably was in a psychotic state on the 25th.'
Dr. Klein was, obviously, a general practitioner. He disclaimed being a psychiatrist, though his course of study in medical school included nervous and mental diseases, ailments and disorders. He said that he diagnosed and prescribed for mental conditions, including those associated with physical ailments. He was the family physician and, though he did not perform the hernia operation, attended decedent through and after that period. In his testimony he expressed the opinion that the accident was definitely related to the suicide, that decedent was suffering from a psychosis, that he was not suffering from any physical brain disease, but that a psychosis is a mental disease. On cross-examination about his opinion as to
whether decedent was suffering from a brain derangement, Dr. Klein asked the examiner, 'What do you mean by brain derangement?' and the following appears: 'Q. By that I mean a mental condition which affected his sanity? A. Yes, I would say he was. Q. On the 25th of November? A. In retrospect I would say he was.'
The carrier's medical witness was Dr. Steckel, a specialist in nervous and mental disorders, who had never seen decedent. In answer to a hypothetical question, he expressed the opinion that the suicide was an intentional act. He was asked no further questions, so we have no means of determining the witness' ...