Appeals, Nos. 155 and 156, March T., 1959, from judgments of Superior Court, April T., 1958, Nos. 115 and 174, affirming judgment of Court of Common Pleas of Westmoreland County, July T., 1957, No. 12, in case of Mrs. Shirley Diehl, widow and administratrix of the estate of Russell P. Diehl, deceased v. Keystone Alloys Company. Judgment reversed. Same case in Superior Court: 189 Pa. Super.Ct. 149. Appeal by claimant from decision of Workmen's Compensation Board refusing award. Opinion entered sustaining appeal and directing judgment for plaintiff, and judgment entered for plaintiff, before O'CONNELL, P.J., and WEISS, J., opinion by O'CONNELL, P.J. Defendant appealed to Superior Court which reversed judgment, opinion by GUNTHER, J. Appeal to Supreme Court allowed.
Joseph M. Loughran, for appellant.
H. Reginald Belden, with him H. A. Stewart, for appellee.
Before Jones, C.j., Bell, Jones, Cohen, Bok and Mcbride, JJ.
OPINION BY MR. JUSTICE BOK
In this workmen's compensation case the question is whether claimant's decedent was the defendant's employe or an independent contractor. He was hauling a truckload of storm windows from Greensburg, Pennsylvania, to Anchorage, Alaska, and when on the Alcan Highway near Palmer was overtaken by what Melville has called an eclipsing menace, mysterious and prodigious. His truck went over the edge while going down a mountain and a steep curve, and he was killed. It was September 9, 1954, and death was obviously accidental.
The referee held that he was an employe and awarded compensation. The Board thought he was a contractor and reversed. The Court of Common Pleas of Westmoreland County returned to the employe theory and reversed the Board. The Superior Court preferred the view of contractorship and reversed the Common Pleas Court.
We think the employe relationship is clear and will reverse the Superior Court.
The case was offered without reference to the Dead Man's Act of May 23, 1887, P.L. 158, 28 P.S. § 322, except as to Charles Zappone, defendant's Vice-President. Angelo J. Zappone, defendant's President, testified without objection. Both sides may have been eager for the support he might give them, and since they chose this theory of the case, we will not be industrious to find a different one: Morrett v. Fire Association of Philadelphia, 265 Pa. 9 (1919), 108 A. 171; Fisher v. Brick, 358 Pa. 260 (1948), 56 A.2d 213. We might observe in passing that without Angelo Zappone's testimony the case for the claimant is clear, since it would rest upon the documents and upon the widow's statement that Angelo Zappone admitted to her that her husband was an employe. This would be an admission by defendant against its interest and not hearsay. Zappone's testimony added only color to the documents and to his critical admission.
Decedent owned several trucks and leased them to defendant. One of these was the truck in which decedent met his death. The document in evidence shows a lease designed to meet the requirements of the Interstate Commerce Commission. It gave defendant the right to hire, fire, and instruct drivers in the "manner, form, and practices" of driving. Defendant was to provide insurance, and it did in fact take an assignment of decedent's interest for the Alaska trip and received a certificate of insurance. Zappone testified that not only did he tell the widow that decedent was defendant's employe and that he would report to the insurance company that he was on defendant's payroll, but that he actually did report so. Zappone's excuse was that he was sorry for the widow and wished to ease her pain.
The defense was that the transaction was between decedent and Zappone Industries, of Spokane, a concern wholly independent of defendant. However, a shipping slip ...