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WIDDIS v. COLLINGDALE MILLWORK CO. ET AL. (11/15/51)

November 15, 1951

WIDDIS
v.
COLLINGDALE MILLWORK CO. ET AL.



COUNSEL

Maurice S. Levy, Philadelphia, for appellant.

Paul H. Ferguson, Philadelphia, for appellees.

Before Rhodes, P. J., and Hirt, Reno, Dithrich, Ross, and Arnold, JJ.

Author: Hirt

[ 169 Pa. Super. Page 613]

HIRT, Judge.

In this action claimant sought a compensation award for the death of her husband. Admittedly he

[ 169 Pa. Super. Page 614]

    committed suicide by shooting himself on November 9, 1947, and the defendant employer therefore was relieved of the burden (otherwise imposed by the Act of June 21, 1939, P.L. 520, 77 P.S. ยง 431, amending the Workmen's Compensation Act) of showing that his death was intentionally self-inflicted. In the light of the admission, claimant, as a basis for an award, was obliged to prove that her husband suffered an accident in the course of his employment and that he 'killed himself while possessed by an uncontrollable insane impulse, or while in a delirium or frenzy, [as a direct result of the accident] without rational knowledge of the physical consequences of his act'. Lupfer v. Baldwin Locomotive Works, 269 Pa. 275, 112 A. 458; Kasman v. Hillman C. & C. Co., 149 Pa. Super. 263, 266, 27 A.2d 762.

Decedent suffered an accident. On November 3, 1947, in the course of his employment, parts of the index and middle fingers of his right hand were amputated by a cutting machine in defendant's plant. It was claimant's contention that, following the injury and because of it, decedent became melancholy and obsessed with the illusion that he would never be able to hold a job again, and that he took his life in a fit of depression without realizing the consequences of his act. The Referee accepted the testimony of claimant to that effect and entered an award. The Board, however, in reversing, substituted this basic finding for that of the Referee: 'The Workmen's Compensation Board finds as a fact that decedent was rational at the time he committed suicide, that he understood the consequences of his act'. On this finding the Board concluded 'as a matter of law that since decedent committed suicide, intentionally and while rational, no compensation is due claimant'. Accordingly her claim petition was dismissed and on appeal the lower court entered judgment for the defendant.

[ 169 Pa. Super. Page 615]

Four notes written by decedent shortly before his death were offered in evidence for the purpose of indicating his state of mind when he committed suicide. The notes were admitted for that single purpose alone. There is no merit in claimant's contention that the notes were hearsay and should have been rejected. They, however, were not admissible, as the Board found, as a part of the res gestae. In strictness res gestae does not apply but the notes were admissible in evidence not as proof of their contents but as disclosing the state of mind of the decedent which impelled him to take his life. Commonwealth v. Williams, 307 Pa. 134, 144, 160 A. 602; Commonwealth v. Santos, 275 Pa. 515, 521, 522, 119 A. 596; Ryman's Case, 139 Pa. Super. 212, 221, 222, 11 A.2d 677. It is of no moment that the notes were received in evidence on a wrong theory since they were properly before the Board for the limited purpose of their admission.

Both of the medical experts, one of whom testified for claimant and the other for the defendant, took into consideration the four 'suicide notes'. Dr. Ely Marcovitz, called by the claimant, was of the opinion in the light of all the circumstances, that decedent had no rational control over his actions and that he would not have committed suicide except for his emotional reaction to the injury to his hand suffered in the course of his employment with the defendant. The Board ignored the opinion of claimant's medical expert, as it had the right to do in the exercise of its function as the ultimate fact finding tribunal, Walsh v. Penn Anth. Mining Co., 147 Pa. Super. 328, 24 A.2d 51; Bartman v. Jones & Laughlin, Steel Corp., 163 Pa. Super. 31, 60 A.2d 565, and accepted the opinion of ...


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