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Hansel v. Sherman Textiles

Supreme Court of North Carolina
Oct 1, 1981
304 N.C. 44 (N.C. 1981)

Summary

denying compensation due to the failure of the claimant, who had the burden of proof, to prove any one of the elements of compensation

Summary of this case from Smith v. First Choice Services

Opinion

No. 107

Filed 6 October 1981

1. Master and Servant 96 — workers' compensation — conclusiveness of findings supported by evidence The findings of fact made by the Industrial Commission in a workers' compensation proceeding are conclusive on appeal if supported by competent evidence even though there is evidence which would support findings to the contrary.

2. Master and Servant 68 — workers' compensation — occupational disease In order for any disease, other than those specifically named in G.S. 97-53, to be deemed an "occupational disease," it must be "proven to be due to" causes and conditions as specified in that statute.

3. Master and Servant 68 — workers' compensation — occupational disease The three elements necessary to prove the existence of a compensable "occupational disease" are: (1) the disease must be characteristic of a trade or occupation; (2) the disease must not be an ordinary disease of life to which the public is equally exposed outside of the employment; and (3) there must be proof of causation, i.e., proof of a causal connection between the disease and the employment.

4. Master and Servant 68 — workers' compensation — non-occupational diseases of respiratory system — aggravation from conditions of employment In cases in which a claimant for workers' compensation has nonoccupational infirmities related solely to the lungs or respiratory system, the Industrial Commission should, as a matter of course, consider whether claimant's disablement (i e. inability to work and earn wages) results from aggravation of those non-occupational diseases or infirmities by causes and conditions peculiar to claimant's employment.

5. Master and Servant 68 — workers' compensation — non-occupational disease — aggravation by conditions of employment If there is no aggravation or acceleration, a disease or condition which is non-occupational in its incipience is non-compensable as a matter of law notwithstanding the intervention of years of occupational exposure to hazardous conditions between the time the disease was contracted and the time it became disabling; if, however, a disease or condition which is non-occupational in its incipience is in fact aggravated or accelerated by causes and conditions peculiar to the claimant's employment, disability resulting therefrom is compensable.

6. Master and Servant 68 — workers' compensation — occupational disease — necessary findings Where the Industrial Commission awards compensation for disablement due to an occupational disease encompassed by G.S. 97-53 (13), the opinion and award must contain findings as to the characteristics, symptoms and manifestations of the disease from which the plaintiff suffers as well as a conclusion of law as to whether the disease falls within the statutory provision; however, such findings are not necessary when the Commission finds that the disease, whatever its manifestations and symptoms, was not due to causes or conditions characteristic of the particular employment in which the employee was engaged.

7. Master and Servant 68 — workers' compensation — byssinosis as partial cause of disability Where the Industrial Commission found that plaintiff's byssinosis was "partly responsible for her disability" and the evidence indicated that plaintiff suffered from other diseases or infirmities, including asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and certain allergies, the Commission should have determined what percentage of plaintiff's disability was due to her occupational disease.

8. Master and Servant 68 — workers' compensation — occupational disease — cause of disability — remand for further evidence and findings Where, in a proceeding brought by plaintiff to recover workers' compensation for disability allegedly resulting from the occupational disease byssinosis, the medical evidence in the record was not sufficiently definite as to the cause of plaintiff's disability to permit effective appellate review, the case must be remanded for further medical testimony and findings as to the following questions: (1) whether plaintiff is totally or partially incapacitated to work and earn wages, and if partially incapacitated, the percentage of her disability; (2) what disease or diseases caused this disability; (3) which of the plaintiff's disabling diseases are occupational in origin; (4) whether plaintiff suffers from disabling diseases or infirmities which are not occupational in origin; (5) whether plaintiff's non-occupational diseases or infirmities aggravated or accelerated her occupational disease; (6) the percentage of plaintiff's incapacity to work and earn wages which results from (a) her occupational disease or (b) her nonoccupational diseases which were aggravated or accelerated by her occupational disease; and (7) the percentage of plaintiff's incapacity to work and earn wages which results from non-occupational diseases or infirmities.

ON appeal by defendant as of right pursuant to G.S. 7A-30 (2), 49 N.C. App. 1, 270 S.E.2d 585 (1980) (opinion by Erwin, J. with Hedrick, J. concurring and Wells, J. dissenting). The Court of Appeals vacated an opinion and award of the North Carolina Industrial Commission in plaintiff's favor filed 17 December 1979. This case was docketed and argued as No. 2, Spring Term 1981.

Frederick R. Stann for plaintiff-appellant.

Hollowell, Stott, Hollowell, Palmer Windham, by James C. Windham for defendant-appellee.


Justice EXUM concurring in result.

Justice CARLTON joins in this concurring opinion.


This proceeding was begun before the Industrial Commission as a compensation claim by plaintiff, a woman fifty-one years of age, seeking recovery on the grounds that she contracted byssinosis as a result of exposure to cotton dust in the course of her employment as a textile worker in defendant's plant. The matter was first heard before Deputy Commissioner Lawrence B. Shuping, Jr., in Shelby on 10 April 1979 at which time, by agreement of the parties, the hearing was limited to the taking of testimony of Dr. T. Reginald Harris. After taking Dr. Harris's testimony, the matter was reset for hearing in Gastonia. The matter subsequently came on for hearing before Deputy Commissioner Christine Y. Denson on 16 July 1979. The parties stipulated in pertinent part that the plaintiff last worked for defendant on 5 May 1977 at which time the employee-employer relationship existed between plaintiff and defendant; that the parties were subject to the provisions of the Workers' Compensation Act; and that plaintiff's average weekly wage was $140.90. The following FINDINGS OF FACT, CONCLUSION OF LAW, and AWARD were entered by Deputy Commissioner Denson:

FINDINGS OF FACT

1. Plaintiff was born on January 8, 1928. At the age of 16 she began working in a textile mill and has worked in a textile mill up to May 5, 1977, except for six months in a paper mill.

2. Most recently, plaintiff worked from 1955 to 1965 in the Gamble Melville mill in Bessemer City. She worked in weaving, but her station was next to the door to the card room which was opened frequently. Cotton dust was visible in the air.

In 1966 plaintiff worked in the Osage mill in Bessemer City as a weaver. Very little cotton was processed but the air was very dusty none-the-less.

In 1967 plaintiff began working for defendant-employer as a weaver. Except for a six month's absence in 1971, plaintiff worked continuously until May 5, 1977. The air was very dusty from the cotton that was processed.

Plaintiff in about 1972, began to notice that when she began the work week on Sunday night, she would have chest tightness and some coughing after being there two or three hours. In about 1974 or 1975, plaintiff felt that way all the time at work with no particular time being worse.

3. Because of shortness of breath and other respiratory problems and some blackout spells, plaintiff moved to the cloth room during the last six months of her employment by defendant. This took her out of dust but her respiratory problems had reached the irreversible stage, and she could hardly exert herself. She quit on May 5, 1977 because of respiratory problems.

4. Plaintiff has both asthma and byssinosis which are causing her respiratory impairment. Her impairment is severe and irreversible.

5. Plaintiff has byssinosis as a result of her exposure to cotton dust in her employment with defendant-employer and this is partly responsible for her disability.

6. Plaintiff has not worked since May 5, 1977.

* * *

The foregoing findings of fact and conclusions of law engender the following additional

CONCLUSION OF LAW

1. Plaintiff has contracted the disease byssinosis as a result of exposure to cotton dust in her employment with defendant-employer. This disease is compensable under the provisions of G.S. 97-53 (13).

2. Defendants owe plaintiff compensation for permanent, partial disability from May 5, 1977 for her period of disability not to exceed 300 weeks. G.S. 97-30.

* * *

Based upon the foregoing findings of fact and conclusions of law, the undersigned enters the following

AWARD

1. Subject to counsel fee, defendants shall pay plaintiff compensation in the amount of $99.94 per week from May 5, 1977 for the period of plaintiff's disability but for a period not to exceed 300 weeks.

2. An attorney fee in the sum of $5,000.00 is awarded plaintiff's counsel and shall be deducted from accured compensation.

3. Defendants shall pay all medical expenses incurred as a result of the occupational disease giving rise hereto.

4. Defendants shall pay the costs.

This the 30th day of July, 1979.

Upon entry of the foregoing opinion and award, the defendants appealed to the full Commission. On 17 December 1979 the full Commission, with Commissioner Robert S. Brown dissenting, entered its opinion and award adopting as its own the decision by Deputy Commissioner Denson in its entirety and affirming her award in all respects. Defendants appealed to the North Carolina Court of Appeals pursuant to G.S. 97-88. The case was heard by the Court of Appeals on 28 August 1980 and that court on 7 October 1980 filed its opinion vacating the award of the full Commission upon its conclusion that the Commission's finding that the plaintiff contracted byssinosis as a result of her exposure to cotton dust in her employment with defendant was unsupported by sufficient competent evidence. Wells, J. dissented. Plaintiff appealed as of right pursuant to G.S. 7A-30 (2).


Pursuant to Rule 16 of the Rules of Appellate Procedure, review by the Supreme Court after a determination by the Court of Appeals, is to determine whether there is error of law in the decision of the Court of Appeals.

Even though the record in the case before us may support a finding that plaintiff did not contract an occupational disease as a result of exposure to cotton dust in her employment with the defendant, if, upon review, this Court finds that the decision of the full commission in its opinion and award is supported by competent evidence, we must conclude that there is error as a matter of law in the decision of the Court of Appeals.

Under the provisions of G.S. 97-86, the Industrial Commission is the fact finding body and the rule under the uniform decisions of this Court is that the findings of fact made by the Commission are conclusive on appeal, both before the Court of Appeals and in this Court, if supported by competent evidence. This is so even though there is evidence which would support a finding to the contrary. Inscoe v. Industries, Inc., 292 N.C. 210, 232 S.E.2d 449 (1977); Cole v. Guilford County, 259 N.C. 724, 131 S.E.2d 308 (1963); Vause v. Equipment Co., 233 N.C. 88, 63 S.E.2d 173 (1951); 8 Strong's N.C. Index 3d, Master and Servant 96, and cases there cited.

In passing upon an appeal from an award of the Industrial Commission, the reviewing court is limited in its inquiry to two questions of law, namely: (1) whether or not there was any competent evidence before the Commission to support its findings of fact; and (2) whether or not the findings of fact of the Commission justify its legal conclusions and decision. Inscoe v. Industries, Inc., 292 N.C. 210, 216, 232 S.E.2d 449, 452 (1977); Henry v. Leather Co., 231 N.C. 477, 57 S.E.2d 760 (1950).

As demonstrated by the majority of the Court of Appeals, there was evidence before the Commission in this case which would have supported a finding that the plaintiff did not contract byssinosis as a result of her exposure to cotton dust in her employment with defendant. It is apparent upon review of the evidence in the record before us that there is substantial and convincing evidence that the plaintiff's symptoms could just as likely have been the result of her asthma and chronic bronchitis conditions as of byssinosis resulting from prolonged exposure to cotton dust. However, that is not the test. The test, as indicated above, is whether there is, in the record that was before the Court of Appeals and which is now before us, competent evidence which would support the Commission's finding that plaintiff contracted byssinosis as a result of her exposure to cotton dust in her employment with the defendant-employer.

It is not the role of the Court of Appeals or of this Court to substitute its judgment for that of the finder of fact.

When the aggrieved party appeals to an appellate court from a decision of the Full Commission on the theory that the underlying findings of fact of the Full Commission are not supported by competent evidence, the appellate courts do not retry the facts. Moses v. Bartholomew, 238 N.C. 714, 78 S.E.2d 923 (1953). It is the duty of the appellate court to determine whether, in any reasonable view of the evidence before the Commission, it is sufficient to support the critical findings necessary for a compensation award. Keller v. Electric Wiring Co., 259 N.C. 222, 130 S.E.2d 342 (1963).

Inscoe v. Industries, Inc., 292 N.C. 210, 217, 232 S.E.2d 449, 453 (1977).

In his dissent, Judge Wells examined the record and found substantial competent evidence to support the full Commission's findings and conclusions. We likewise find competent evidence to support the findings of the Commission, but we are unable to say that the findings justify the Commission's conclusion as to causation and its award. While the two-judge majority of the panel at the Court of Appeals failed to find sufficient evidence in the record before the Commission to support the opinion and award and the dissenting judge reviewing the same record found ample evidence to support it, our comprehensive review of that same record leads us to an entirely different conclusion. We conclude that the medical evidence in the record is not sufficiently definite as to the cause of plaintiff's disability to permit effective appellate review.

For a disability to be compensable under our Workers' Compensation Act, it must be either the result of an accident arising out of and in the course of employment or an "occupational disease."

G.S. 97-52 provides in effect that disablement of an employee resulting from an "occupational disease" described in G.S. 97-53 shall be treated as the happening of an injury by accident. This section provides specifically:

The word `accident' . . . shall not be construed to mean a series of events in employment of a similar or like nature occurring regularly, continuously . . . whether such events may or may not be attributable to the fault of the employer and disease attributable to such causes shall be compensable only if culminating in an occupational disease mentioned in and compensable under this article. (Emphasis added.)

G.S. 97-53 contains the comprehensive list of occupational diseases for which compensation is provided in the Act.

By the express language of G.S. 97-53, only the diseases and conditions enumerated therein shall be deemed to be occupational diseases within the meaning of the Act.

Byssinosis is not "mentioned in and compensable under" the Act, except by virtue of G.S. 97-53, which provides in pertinent part as follows:

Section 97-53. Occupational diseases enumerated; . . . the following diseases and conditions only shall be deemed to be occupational diseases within the meaning of this Article: . . .

(13) Any disease . . . which is proven to be due to causes and conditions which are characteristic of and peculiar to a particular trade, occupation or employment, but excluding all ordinary diseases of life to which the general public is equally exposed outside of the employment.

[2, 3] In Booker v. Medical Center, 297 N.C. 458, 256 S.E.2d 189 (1979), Chief Justice Sharp exhaustively examined the true meaning of the term "occupational disease" as that term is used in our Workers' Compensation Act. It is unnecessary for us to repeat the results of that examination here. The clear language of G.S. 97-53 is that for any disease, other than those specifically named, to be deemed an "occupational disease" within the meaning of the Article, it must be "proven to be due to," causes and conditions as specified in that statute. This Court held in Booker that there are three elements necessary to prove the existence of a compensable "occupational disease": (1) the disease must be characteristic of a trade or occupation, (2) the disease is not an ordinary disease of life to which the public is equally exposed outside of the employment, and (3) there must be proof of causation, i.e., proof of a causal connection between the disease and the employment. Id. at 468, 475, 256 S.E.2d at 196, 200.

With regard to the third element, this Court further said in Booker:

It is this limitation which protects our Workmen's Compensation Act from being converted into a general health and insurance benefit act. Bryan v. Church, 267 N.C. 111, 115, 147 S.E.2d 633, 635 (1966). In Duncan v. Charlotte, 234 N.C. 86, 91, 66 S.E.2d 22, 25 (1951) we held that the addition of G.S. 97-53 to the Act `in nowise relaxed the fundamental principle which requires proof of causal relation between injury and employment. And nonetheless [sic], since the adoption of the amendment, may an award for an occupational disease be sanctioned unless it be shown that the disease was incident to or the result of the particular employment in which the workman was engaged.'

297 N.C. at 475, 256 S.E.2d at 200.

In workers' compensation actions the rule of causation is that where the right to recover is based on injury by accident, the employment need not be the sole causative force to render an injury compensable.

[If the employee] by reason of constitutional infirmaties is predisposed to sustain injuries while engaged in labor, nevertheless the leniency and humanity of the law permit him to recover compensation if the physical aspects of the employment contribute in some reasonable degree to bring about or intensify the condition which renders him susceptible to such accident and consequent injury.

Vause v. Equipment Co., 233 N.C. 88, 92, 63 S.E.2d 173, 176 (1951).

It has on occasion been implied that a similar rule of causation should prevail in cases where compensation for occupational disease is sought; however, if a disease is produced by some extrinsic or independent agency, it may not be imputed to the occupation or the employment. Duncan v. Charlotte, 234 N.C. 86 66 S.E.2d 22 (1951); Moore v. Stevens Co., 47 N.C. App. 744, 748, 269 S.E.2d 159, 162 (1980).

It is axiomatic that neither Mrs. Hansel's asthma nor her chronic bronchitis is an "occupational disease" which standing alone is compensable under the Workers' Compensation Act, nor does either party make such a contention. The questions of aggravation or acceleration of these diseases or infirmities was not considered by Deputy Commissioner Denson or the full Commission, nor was it addressed in the evidence. We believe that it should have been. In cases in which a claimant has other infirmities related solely to the lungs or respiratory system, the Commission should, as a matter of course, consider whether claimant's disablement (i.e. inability to work and earn wages) results from aggravation of those other non-occupational diseases or infirmities by causes and conditions peculiar to claimant's employment.

If there is no aggravation or acceleration, a disease or condition which is non-occupational in its incipience, is non-compensable as a matter of law notwithstanding the intervention of years of occupational exposure to hazardous conditions between the time the disease was contracted and the time it became disabling. If however a disease or condition which is non-occupational in its incipience is in fact aggravated or accelerated by causes and conditions peculiar to the claimant's employment, disability resulting therefrom is compensable.

As indicated in Booker, a claimant's right to compensation for an occupational disease under G.S. 97-53 (13) and G.S. 97-52 depends upon proper proof of causation, and the burden of proving each and every element of compensability is upon the plaintiff. Richards v. Nationwide Homes, 263 N.C. 295, 139 S.E.2d 645 (1965); Aylor v. Barnes, 242 N.C. 223, 87 S.E.2d 269 (1955). It is true that, where the Commission awards compensation for disablement due to an occupational disease encompassed by G.S. 97-53 (13), the opinion and award must contain findings as to the characteristics, symptoms and manifestations of the disease from which the plaintiff suffers, as well as a conclusion of law as to whether the disease falls within the statutory provision. Wood v. Stevens Co., 297 N.C. 636, 256 S.E.2d 692 (1979). However, such findings should not be necessary upon the Commission's finding that the disease, whatever its manifestations and whatever its symptoms, was not due to causes or conditions characteristic of the particular employment in which the employee was engaged. The denial of compensation may be predicated upon the failure of the claimant to prove any one of the elements of compensability. See, Moore v. Stevens Co., 47 N.C. App. 744, 269 S.E.2d 159 (1980), pet. for disc. rev. denied, 301 N.C. 401, 274 S.E.2d 266 (1980).

In the case before us in which the Commission made an award of compensation, there was not sufficient determination by the finders of fact, and certainly no explicit findings, upon which this Court can determine the sufficiency of the evidence to support the Commission's findings and conclusion. It is explicitly stated in the Commission's finding number 5 that plaintiff's byssinosis "is partly responsible for her disability" and thus implicit that some other disease or infirmity is likewise "partly responsible for her disability." The evidence indicates that the other disease or infirmity is probably asthma and chronic bronchitis, although plaintiff also testified that two other doctors told her previously that she had emphysema. It also appears from the evidence that she is apparently also allergic to, among other things, dust, mold, mildew, trees, grass, animals, feathers, cotton dust, nylon dust and polyester dust. Because of the presence of these other infirmities and because this is a case of partial disability as opposed to one of total disability, it must be determined what percentage of claimant's disability is due to her occupational disease. Morrison v. Burlington Industries, 304 N.C. 1, 282 S.E.2d 458 (1981).

The medical evidence appearing in the record before this Court is not sufficiently definite on the cause of plaintiff's disability to permit effective appellate review. The only medical witness before the Commission, Dr. Harris, did not address the crucial medical question of interrelationship, if any, between plaintiff's occupational disease and her disability.

We deem it unnecessary to recite or recapitulate the evidence which is fairly summarized in the opinion and dissent in the Court of Appeals. However, solely for the purpose of illustrating the problems in assessing the medical evidence before us on causation, we will set forth only a part of plaintiff's evidence as it relates to the element of causation. Dr. T. Reginald Harris testified in part:

She has an illness. In general terms, I thought it fitted the pattern of chronic obstructive lung disease . . . . She has three distinct syndromes that probably contributes (sic) to that impairment. These are asthma, byssinosis and chronic bronchitis.

. . . .

If she did not work in cotton, I would not have any diagnosis of byssinosis.

. . . .

There is a possibility that she has byssinosis and she certainly could have . . . . The answer is yes, could or might.

Q . . . . Do you have an opinion satisfactory to yourself to a reasonable degree of medical certainty that the condition suffered by Pauline Hansel could or might be byssinosis? . . .

A. My answer is yes, it could or might be byssinosis.

A. To amplify, I have difficulty in this patient for several reasons, to answer so specific a question. One of the difficulties, I'm not really aware of how much cotton dust exposure this lady was involved. Your hypothetical question assumed considerable amounts of cotton dust exposure. That's why the history obtained by me is not specific enough for me to be able to evaluate over her employment, and the other problem she worked in the weaving department where there is much less dust than some of the other departments. If there was a lot of other fibers in the cotton in that department, there would be less exposure. That is one factor that would tend to add weight or less weight to consider the diagnosis. And the major difficulty is the diagnosis of asthma. I believe this lady has asthma and every person with asthma will react to cotton dust. If they have severe asthma they are not able to stay there. The milder cases, they can work in less dusty areas of the plant. So the diagnosis is more complex because this lady could have many of these same symptoms whether she worked around cotton dust because of the present asthma. She also has a history of chronic bronchitis symptoms of coughing day and night. Probably one of the major facts in her case is cigarette smoking as recorded by me. Could or might is true. I think that the possibility exists that both of the conditions are certainly present. It would be less complicated if she didn't have other problems, but she does have.

. . . .

Yes sir, I did say I had some difficulty in arriving at a diagnosis in this case due to the other conditions that I found that existed in this lady. I suspect the biggest difficulty was the history of asthma because the presence of asthma would lead you to anticipate as individuals would react with symptoms when they go to a textile plant. Because asthmatics react to all manners of dust. I said the symptoms of coughing, tightness of the chest could result or could be caused by the asthmatic condition rather than the breathing of dust. Yes, in the history that she gave me, she stated that she had a cough, or a dry hacking cough, as much as 30 years ago.

. . . .

That fact that she had chronic bronchitis since 1948 or 1950 indicated to me that she had chronic lung disease and probably chronic bronchitis, that is a proper term for that, as long as that period of time. Let me tell you what my opinion was at the time of my examination and history and I think still is. This lady has chronic bronchitis and this lady likely and probably has asthma. There is a possibility that she could have a reaction known as byssinosis syndrome, but I am not able to determine the extent of that condition nor add much weight to its presence, because I do not have the ability to separate out any specific symptoms related to byssinosis that this lady has that cannot be explained by the other two conditions that are present. It is more difficult, also, because I do not know what her work exposure, history to cotton dust, is here.

It's true, that the asthmatic condition and the other, chronic bronchitis, could be the cause of this lady's condition that I found upon examination, as well as the other findings the syndrome findings that I made.

. . . .

People who have byssinosis for many years, have a lung disease that is indistinguishable from chronic bronchitis.

The following is excerpted from Dr. Harris's medical report of his examination of Mrs. Hansel on 10 August 1978 which was admitted into evidence as Exhibit "A":

Comment:

This patient has a lengthy history of obstructive pulmonary disease. She is a cigarette smoker and has had considerable textile work exposure. I do not have information which describes her dust exposure over the years. She has had considerable exposure to textile environment but this has been in the weaving department where traditionally, there has been less dust than in the earlier stages of processing cotton in a textile plant. This patient has a history suggesting chronic bronchitis with cough and sputum production. She also has a history of increased symptoms upon work exposure and has a typical history of increased symptoms on the first day of the work week after a work absence. The history she gives is similar to that of patients with byssinosis and patients with chronic bronchitis. The picture is somewhat complicated by a history suggesting asthma and allergy in the past and by the history of vocal cord abnormalities. . . . .

On the basis of the information available to me, this patient may well have three identifiable problems causing lung disease. She has a history compatible with and suggesting asthma. She is believed to have chronic bronchitis and to have byssinosis. The later diagnosis is made on the basis of chronic obstructive lung disease in a patient with a typical work history of byssinosis and presumably has had exposure to cotton textile dust over long enough time to permit development of this syndrome. It is true, however, that patients with asthma also react to cotton dust and have increased symptoms upon exposure — similar to those with the syndrome of byssinosis. Cigarette smoking is certainly a major contributing factor to chronic bronchitis. It is not possible to quantitate the relative contribution of the various etiological factors in her present respiratory impairment. It is likely that all are involved to some extent. It is this examiners belief that the patient probably has asthma and that she does have chronic bronchitis as well as byssinosis.

. . . .

Diagnostic Conclusion:

1) Chronic Obstruction air ways disease.

Asthma, probable.

Byssinosis syndrome.

Chronic bronchitis.

In order for the Court to determine whether the Commission's findings and conclusions are supported by competent evidence, the record before us must be supplemented by medical testimony to indicate answers to the following questions:

(1) Is plaintiff totally or partially incapacitated to work and earn wages? If partial, to what extent is she disabled; i.e., what is the percentage of her disability?

(2) What disease or diseases caused this disability?

(3) Which of the plaintiff's disabling diseases are occupational in origin, i. e., which diseases are due to causes and conditions which are characteristic of and peculiar to plaintiff's occupation as distinguished from ordinary diseases of life to which the general public is equally exposed outside of the employment?

(4) Does plaintiff suffer from a disabling disease or infirmity which is not occupational in origin, i e., which is not due to causes and conditions characteristic of and peculiar to plaintiff's occupation as distinguished from ordinary diseases of life to which the general public is equally exposed outside of the employment?

If so, specify the non-occupational disease(s) or infirmities?

(5) Was plaintiff's non-occupational disease(s) or infirmity aggravated or accelerated by her occupational disease(s)?

(6) What percentage of plaintiff's incapacity to work and earn wages results from (a) her occupational disease(s) or (b) her nonoccupational disease(s) which were aggravated or accelerated by her occupational disease(s)?

(7) What percentage of plaintiff's incapacity to work and earn wages results from diseases or infirmities which are nonoccupational in origin?

We conclude that the Court of Appeals acted prematurely in vacating the award of the full Commission. In our discretion, we remand for further findings of fact.

The Industrial Commission must make specific findings of fact as to each material fact upon which the rights of the parties in a case involving a claim for compensation depend. Wood v. Stevens Co., 297 N.C. 636, 256 S.E.2d 692 (1979); Thomason v. Cab Co., 235 N.C. 602, 70 S.E.2d 706 (1952). If the findings of fact of the Commission are insufficient to enable the court to determine the rights of the parties upon the matters in controversy, the cause must be remanded to the Commission for proper findings of fact. Young v. Whitehall Co., 229 N.C. 360, 49 S.E.2d 797 (1948); Moore v. Stevens Co., 47 N.C. App. 744, 749, 269 S.E.2d 159, 162 (1980); Gaines v. Swain Son, Inc., 33 N.C. App. 575, 235 S.E.2d 856 (1977). See also 1 Strong's N.C. Index 3d, Appeal and Error 57.3.

Since we cannot evaluate the testimony quoted above and correctly determine whether the findings made by the Commission are supported by the evidence, this case must be remanded to the Commission to re-examine the medical witnesses to elicit definite answers to the questions noted above. Upon the hearing on remand, the parties are not prohibited from offering additional evidence. After re-examination of the medical witnesses, the Commission will make findings of fact, enter its conclusions of law and issue its opinion and award based thereon.

For the reasons stated, the decision of the Court of Appeals is reversed and the case is remanded to the Court of Appeals with directions that it be remanded to the North Carolina Industrial Commission for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Reversed and remanded.


Summaries of

Hansel v. Sherman Textiles

Supreme Court of North Carolina
Oct 1, 1981
304 N.C. 44 (N.C. 1981)

denying compensation due to the failure of the claimant, who had the burden of proof, to prove any one of the elements of compensation

Summary of this case from Smith v. First Choice Services

remanding for further findings when, among other things, the Commission failed to find the extent and nature of plaintiff's disability and whether that disability was causally related to her employment

Summary of this case from Lane v. Beall's

applying apportionment rule established in Morrison

Summary of this case from Gray v. Carolina Freight Carriers
Case details for

Hansel v. Sherman Textiles

Case Details

Full title:PAULINE C. HANSEL, EMPLOYEE-PLAINTIFF v. SHERMAN TEXTILES, EMPLOYER…

Court:Supreme Court of North Carolina

Date published: Oct 1, 1981

Citations

304 N.C. 44 (N.C. 1981)
283 S.E.2d 101

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