J. A. Bolard, Cambridge Springs, A. Grant Walker, Erie, for appellant.
Aldan W. Curtze and Brooks, Curtze & Silin, Erie, for appellee.
Before Rhodes, P. J., and Hirt, Reno, Dithrich, Ross and Arnold, JJ.
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In this workmen's compensation case, the claimant, an employe of the defendant company which is engaged in the manufacture, delivery and placing of burial vaults, became disabled on August 16, 1947, while assisting in lifting the dome of a burial vault. While so engaged, the claimant felt something 'snap' in his back and experienced severe plain, necessitating his discontinuing work. He filed a claim for compensation and, after it was disallowed by the compensation authorities and his appeal dismissed by the court below, took this appeal.
The claimant's disability was caused by a forward displacement of the fifth lumbar vertebra which resulted from the strain of lifting. A medical examination, including X-rays, disclosed that the claimant had a congenital spondylolisthesis, which was explained by his doctor as '* * * a congenital anomaly of the lumbo-sacral joint. * * * It is congenital -- I mean, it's there before birth and it consists of a defect in the isthmus of the lamina of the vertebrae -- a bilateral defect which allows the fifth lumbar vertebra to be displaced forward some way'. The compensation authorities found that the claimant's 'disability resulted from a congenital spondylolisthesis of the back and did not result from an accident', and concluded that the claimant was not entitled to compensation 'inasmuch as he was performing his usual, customary work and nothing happened which could be considered an accident'.
It is well established that disability overtaking an employe at work is not compensable unless it is the result of an accident, and to constitute an accident there must be some untoward occurrence aside from
[ 167 Pa. Super. Page 366]
the usual course of events. A pre-existing condition or disease rendering a claimant more susceptible to injury does not necessarily defeat his right to compensation, but proof of the aggravation of a prior condition, in itself, is not enough; that fact does not give rise to an inference that its cause was accidental. There must be clear proof of an accident. Adamchick v. Wyoming Val. Collieries Co., 332 Pa. 401, 3 A.2d 377; Garver v. B. K. Elliott Co., 155 Pa. Super. 511, 38 A.2d 533; Aboud v. Aluminum Seal Co., 162 Pa. Super. 482, 57 A.2d 706.
Claimant's doctor testified that because of his congenital condition the claimant had a 'potentially weak back'. He, also, testified: 'Q. Now, doctor, is a man with that kind of a back more susceptible to injury than otherwise? A. Yes.
'Q. What may bring on a disability to a back of that kind? A. Well, ordinarily an excessive strain will cause it, or most frequently a lifting strain.' Further, although stating that in his opinion claimant's disability resulted from his lifting the dome of the burial vault, he also testified that 'It might have happened on a great many occasions when he lifted vaults'. The claimant testified:
'Q. On the date of the accident, August 16, you were doing the same type of work you had done for this company since the time of your employment with them? A. ...