Matthews v. R.T. Allen & Sons, Inc.
266 A.2d 240 (Maine 1970)

Facts:

  • The Petitioner, a 43-year-old woods-worker, was employed loading pulpwood onto trucks by hand.
  • At about 10:30 or 11:00 A.M. on November 13, he felt pain in his back but he continued to work.
  • The pain gradually got worse and worse to the point where he was unable to continue and went home.
  • During the next four days the back pain continued to increase in severity and he could not go to work.
  • December 10 he had a herniated disc removed.
  • He filed for workers’ comp.

History:
The Commissioner found that the evidence was insufficient to support a finding that he sustained a personal injury by accident arising out of and in the course of his employment.

  • “We cannot conclude from the testimony that the disc condition which disabled him on November 13, 1967, resulted from any single episode, or traumatic incident.“

Issue:
Whether the Petitioner suffered a personal injury arising out of and in the course of his employment.

Holding:
Yes. Case reversed.

Reasoning:

  • The term “injury by accident” includes incidents where internal parts of physical structure break down under external force, including stress of labor, and the term “accident” includes not only injuries which are results of accidents but also injuries which are themselves accidents.
    • For instance, nobody would question the accidental nature of someone breaking his or her wrist at work. Thus, if an artery were to break instead, the occurrence is just as clearly an accident.
  • Here, there was enough evidence to conclude that loading the trucks at least contributed to his disability.
    • The pain started to come one while he was working, and the doctor’s report noted that “after the pain had developed he continued to work” – thus creating a causal inference.
    • The fact that we don’t know the exact time this occurred is pretty much irrelevant – “if stress of labor aggravates or accelerates the development of a preexisting infirmity causing an internal breakdown of that part of the structure a personal injury by accident occurs.”

Rule: An unexpected injury itself can constitute the “accident” for WC purposes – there’s no requirement that an unusual event take place.