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Jenkins v. Industrial Commission

Supreme Court of Arizona

July 12, 1954


[77 Ariz. 378] Ashby I. Lohse, Tucson, for petitioner.

Robert E. Yount, Phoenix (John R. Franks, Donald J. Morgan and Robert K. Park, Phoenix, of counsel), for respondent, Industrial Commission.

PHELPS, Chief Justice.

On May 9, 1951, petitioner was employed by Firestone Tire & Rubber Company in Tucson. While handling an automobile battery on that date it exploded causing petitioner to suddenly jerk his head back from the explosion. He threw his hands up pressing them against his glasses, bending the frames. Some acid was thrown in his face but no injury was caused thereby. No solid particles struck him. There were no immediate symptoms as a result of the accident. Two weeks later petitioner noticed flashes or streaks of light in the left half of the visual field of the right eye along with a film or veil over that eye. About a week later petitioner called upon Dr. Bernfeld who, after an examination, placed him in the hospital and operated upon the eye for the purpose of attempting to correct a separation of the retina. The operation was unsuccessful. He completely lost his vision in the right eye. He applied to the Industrial Commission of Arizona for compensation and was later awarded compensation therefor. This award became final and is not now in question. The employer was carrying Workmen's Compensation Insurance with the state compensation fund.

During the early part of July, 1951, while petitioner was confined in bed at home under the instructions of Dr. Bernfeld preparatory for a cataract operation upon the left eye, he began to see flashes of light in the left eye of the same character as he had experienced in the right eye. These flashes of light continued to appear in front of the left eye after the operation. On September 6, 1951, petitioner called upon Drs. Irvine, Irvine and Irvine, eye specialists in Los Angeles and was examined by each of them. Dr. A. Ray Irvine, Jr., wrote a letter to the commission on October 10, 1951, concerning this examination in which he stated:

'A cataract operation was performed on the left eye in July, 1950. Recently the patient has been bothered by increase in 'floaters' and flashes of light, and he fears possible detachment of the retina in this eye.

[77 Ariz. 379]

Page 602

'Examination of this left eye shows vision correctively to 20/30 with k 8.50-2.00 X 20, and he is able to read 4 point type with a k 3.00 add. The eye is white and quiet. There is no evidence of inflammation in the anterior chamber. An operative coloboma of the iris is present. The pupillary edge is adhered to lens remnants preventing dilation of the pupil. There is a central hole in the pupillary membrane, through which vitreous is streaming into the anterior chamber. Ophthalmoscopically, the nerve appears normal. There is a layer of vitreous dust overlying the macula. There are many vitreous floaters, all of which give a slight haze to the retinal picture. The periphery above seemed normal, there being no evidence of detachment. The lower periphery of the fundus was invisible because of the contracted pupil, but I could study the fundus as far out as the equator and found no evidence of detachment. A copy of the visual fields are included.

'Impression: The right eye is hopelessly blind. I do not believe there is detachment in the left eye, but the patient should be observed at regular intervals and fields taken to help diagnose beginning detachment as visualization of the fundus is limited. In the event of detachment in the lower field I would not hisitate to cut the spincter of the iris at 6 o'clock to facilitate observation of the fundus prior to attempting surgery for correction of the detachment. I believe a detachment may well occur within the next ten years, and in such an event the prognosis for vision is poor.'

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* * *

"History: The patient, a 51 year old white mechanic, has been near sighed for as long as he can remember. An extra capsular cataract extraction was performed upon the right eye five years ago. Post operatively he experienced irritation, redness and pain for some time suggesting that vitreous may have been lost. On May 9th, 1951, while at work a battery exploded with sufficient force to bend his glasses against his brow. Two days later he noticed a veil over the right eye, and on June 4th a 'curtain' appeared in his visual field extending obliquely from 1 to 4 o'clock. A week later a retinal reattachment operation was performed by Dr. Bernfeld. There was no improvement in his visual field post-operatively. An extra capsular extraction was performed on the left eye July 9th, 1950 (should be 1951).

"Mr. Jenkins was concerned about the presence of light flashes in the upper field. He also complained of a constant field defect above in the left eye since his cataract extraction.'

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"* * * The corrected vision in the left eye was 20/30. He was able to [77 Ariz. 380] read Well's 4 point type. The tension was normal. Capsular remnants were seen behind each iris pillar. The tip of each iris pillar was adherent to the vitreous face. There were heavey vitreous strands with some extension into the anterior chamber, but I was (not) able to see any adhesion to the cornea in the left eye. Although fine and coarse vitreous opacities obscured the posterior segment somewhat, I was unable to note any evidence of retinal detachment. Enclosed is a copy of the perimetric field. It coincides with the configuration of the capsular remnants in the pupil inferiorly, and is, I believe, explained by them.

"The patient returned to see Dr. Rodman Irvine and Dr. Wendell Irvine. The former elicited a history of light flashes in the upper field of the left eye. Dr. Wendell Irvine also noted a peripheral area of degeneration from 5 to 7 o'clock. I felt that there was a dense vitreous veil from 3 to 4 o'clock and some greyish white plaques at the retina in the two meridian in the mid periphery. Dr. Rodman Irvine took a field on the tangent screen and is sending you a report of his findings and recommendations. As far as I am concerned, the right eye is beyond repair. I do not see any evidence of retinal

Page 603

detachment in the left eye but feel that the patient should be observed closely for the onset of such a catastrophe."

Later, to wit, on June 29, 1953, the deposition of Dr. A. Ray Irvine, Jr., was taken under oath in which he stated insofar as here material: 'Symptoms of patient (on September 6, 1951) were suggestive of but not pathognomonic (apparently meaning not decisive) of retinal separation.' He also stated that symptoms reported by petitioner to him of limitations of his field of vision at that time were indicative of beginning of a detachment of the retina; that although he then found no evidence of detachment that did not mean that detachment had not begun and that a detachment might occur at any time; that on January 8, 1852, he again examined petitioner and found vision in the left eye reduced to light perception and stated that it was probably caused by the explosion.

According to petitioner's testimony under oath at a hearing held before the commission September 10, 1953, within a few days after petitioner returned from Los Angeles to Phoenix in September, 1951, his vision was reduced to the point that he had to be led in order to go from place to place, that his only vision was to distinguish between daytime and night. Dr. Stuart Sanger who gave petitioner cortisone at the suggestion of Dr. Bernfeld beginning October 1, 1951, estimated petitioner's percentage of loss of vision in the left eye at that time at 75 per cent.

Drs. Bernfeld and O'Connor of Tucson and Dr. A. Ray Irvine, Jr., of Los Angeles, eye specialists, all were of the opinion that [77 Ariz. 381] the retinal detachment of petitioner's left eye was contributed to by the accident of May 9, 1951. Drs. Toland, French and Melton of Phoenix, also eye specialists, were especially appointed by the commission to give their opinion, based upon the record in the case, as to the cause of the detachment to petitioner's left eye 'in relation to the indirect injury of May 9, 1951.'

On July 14, 1952, they made their report to the commission in which they said:

'The files state that Mr. Jenkins (1) was a high myope, (2) had bilateral cataract extractions, (3) had bilateral capsulotomies, and (4) had peripheral retinal degeneration of the left eye between 5 and 7 o'clock with many vitreous floaters, as indicated in Dr. Irvine's report of September 6, 1951 which was 4 months after the injury, and at which time to evidence of detachment was found.

'We, the undersigned, feel that (1) the above findings are more contributing causes of a detachment than was the indirect injury, and (2) since no evidence of detachment was found 4 months after the injury that the resultant detachment 2 months later, or 6 months after the injury, was due to pathological disorganization of the retina rather than to trauma. We feel that the Commission was very generous and liberal in accepting the detachment of the right eye as compensable as all these types of cases present an element of doubt. We are of the opinion that the detachment of the left eye is not related to his injury whatsoever.'

On August 14, 1952, the commission entered its award allowing compensation for petitioner's loss of his right eye but denied compensation for the loss of the left eye giving as its reason therefor that a reviewing board of eye specialists after examining the files in the case found that 'we are of the opinion that the detachment of the left eye is not related to his injury whatsoever.' Thereafter a motion for rehearing was granted and hearing held in Tucson on September 10, 1953, at which time Drs. Klein and O'Connor, and petitioner, testified. The pertinent portions of this testimony will be hereinafter stated in substance. Later, on October 9, 1953, Dr. Virgil A. Toland testified at a hearing held in Phoenix. The deposition of Dr. A. Ray Irvine, Jr., of Los Angeles as above stated, was filed with the commission on July 1, 1953.

On November 30, 1953, the commission entered its findings and award affirming its award of August 14, 1952, denying petitioner compensation for the loss of his left eye.

This latter award is based upon the specific finding that 'claimant has not shown by

Page 604

his evidence or witnesses that the loss of claimant's left eye was the result of, or in any wise contributed to by any accident claimant suffered in his employment.' (Emphasis supplied.) The above finding is [77 Ariz. 382] assigned as error upon the ground that there is no evidence to support it.

A determination of this question requires an examination of the evidence. Drs. Bernfeld and O'Connor of Tucson and Dr. A. Ray Irvine, Jr., of Los Angeles, all of whom are eminent eye specialists, made personal examinations of petitioner's left eye in particular and the record discloses that each and every one of them declared it to be his opinion that the indirect injury sustained by petitioner on May 9, 1951, as a result of the explosion of an automobile battery then being handled by him, contributed to the retinal detachment of the left eye. Drs. Rodman Irvine and Wendell C. Irvine were not called upon to testify concerning the matter.

Drs. Toland, French and Melton of Phoenix, upon whose statement the commission relies, stated in substance the same thing in their report to the commission bearing date July 14, 1952. After stating their findings from the files in the case to the effect that petitioner '(1) was a high myope, (2) had bilateral cataract extraction, (3) had bilateral capsulotomies, and (4) had peripheral retinal degeneration of the left eye ...

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