Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Montour County in case of Miriam G. Stump, Claimant, Widow of David A. Stump, Deceased, v. Follmer Trucking Company, No. 22, February Term, 1968.
E. C. Marianelli, for appellant.
Donald A. Lewis, for appellee.
Judges Crumlish, Jr., Kramer and Mencer, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Mencer.
In the early morning hours of September 5, 1962, a tractor-trailer truck owned by Follmer Trucking Company, being driven east on Route 61 in the Borough of Frackville, Pennsylvania by their employee, David A. Stump, struck a tree limb overhanging the street. David A. Stump stopped the truck about 120 feet from the tree and turned on the truck's flasher lights. He then proceeded to the rear of his truck holding a two-cell flashlight in his left hand. Thereafter, he was found lying on the sidewalk near the tree. He was clutching his stomach with his arms and, although conscious, did not respond to questions. He was removed to a doctor's office and died approximately one hour later. An autopsy was performed and the report concluded that "[t]his man died of coronary artery thrombosis. He was involved in an accident. His truck struck a tree. The post mortem revealed no injuries that would have caused this man's death. There was some retro-peritoneal hemorrhage in the region of the right kidney, but it was not sufficient to be a factor."
The claimant-appellee in this appeal, Miriam G. Stump, is the widow of David A. Stump, deceased. She seeks workmen's compensation benefits for herself and her minor daughter because of the death of her husband while in the course of his employment as a truck driver with the defendant-appellant, Follmer Trucking Company.
The referee made an award but on appeal the Workmen's Compensation Board (Board) reversed the referee and dismissed the claim petition, such action being based on the Board's conclusion that no causal connection
had been established between the accident of the truck's striking the tree limb and David A. Stump's death which it attributed to natural causes. An appeal was taken by claimant to the Montour County Branch of the Court of Common Pleas of the 26th Judicial District which reversed the Board and reinstated the award made by the referee. The defendant appealed.
We must recognize that the Board is the fact finding body and it is not the prerogative of the lower court or of this Court to assume this privilege. Puskarich v. Puskarich, 174 Pa. Superior Ct. 581, 102 A.2d 191 (1954). The findings of the Board prevail on appeal if there is competent and substantial evidence in the record to sustain them. Gaughan v. Commonwealth, 208 Pa. Superior Ct. 406, 222 A.2d 446 (1966). As we said in State Workmen's Insurance Fund v. Young, 2 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 423, 427, 276 A.2d 552, 555 (1971), quoting with approval from Dindino v. Weekly Review Publishing Company, Inc., 188 Pa. Superior Ct. 606, 610, 149 A.2d 475, 477 (1959): "'Questions of fact are for the compensation authorities and the appellate court may not make an independent appraisement of the evidence: Berman v. George J. Blair Company, 137 Pa. Superior Ct. 193, 8 A.2d 731. The Board is not required to accept even uncontradicted testimony as true and, where its decision is against the party having the burden of proof, the question before the court on appeal is whether the Board's findings of fact are consistent with each other and with its conclusions of law and order and can be sustained without a capricious disregard of the competent evidence.'"
Here the crucial fact question is whether the decedent's death was caused by and resulted from an accident and not from natural causes. The five medical witnesses in this case agree that the cause of David A.
Stump's death was coronary thrombosis. However, there is a disagreement among the medical witnesses as to whether the involvement in the accident of the truck's striking the tree produced emotional excitement or shock in David A. Stump which, in turn, caused the coronary thrombosis.
We stated in Frombach v. United States Steel Corp., 2 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 556, 559, 279 A.2d 779, 781 (1971): "Of course, it is well settled that where there is a conflict of medical opinion, it is the province of the compensation authorities to decide which conclusion will be adopted. Chernetsky v. William Penn Stripping Co., 200 Pa. Superior Ct. 277, 188 A.2d 770 (1963). The Board is not required to accept the testimony of any witness, even though the testimony is uncontradicted, Lowery v. Pittsburgh Coal Co., 427 Pa. 576, 235 A.2d 805 (1967), nor is the Board required to award compensation even where the defendant has presented no evidence, because it could conclude that the claimant has not met the burden of proof, or that his witnesses are not credible, and not worthy of belief even though uncontradicted. Updegrove v. Floyd Wells Stove Co., 160 Pa. Superior Ct. 51, 53, 49 A.2d 870, 872 (1946). Therefore, ...