Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Cambria County, in case of John Yuhas v. Bethlehem Steel Corporation, No. 535 September Term, 1971.
Robert G. Rose, with him Spence, Custer, Saylor, Wolfe & Rose, for appellant.
Robert S. Glass, with him Glass, Glass & Moot, for appellee.
President Judge Bowman and Judges Crumlish, Jr., Kramer, Wilkinson, Jr., Mencer, Rogers and Blatt. Opinion by Judge Kramer.
This is an appeal by Bethlehem Steel Corporation (Bethlehem) from an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Cambria County sustaining the appeal of John Yuhas (Yuhas) and directing a Workmen's Compensation award to him.
Yuhas, a forty-five year old steelworker for Bethlehem, filed a claim petition for Workmen's Compensation benefits arising out of his alleged physical injuries resulting from an incident which occurred on March 20, 1968 at Bethlehem's Johnstown plant. Yuhas was
an assistant burner in a "cable hole" [also called "cobble hole" in record] at the plant, where he burned scrap and bundled it. On the date of the incident, in the routine performance of his work, he was attempting to attach a chain around a bundle of scrap for the removal of the bundle by a crane. A large piece*fn1 of steel became lodged under the bundle in such a way that Yuhas knelt down and attempted to dislodge it. A description of what took place is best described by Yuhas, himself, in his testimony before the referee, where he said: "So as I got down to move this piece that was stuck, and all of a sudden as I went to start lifting, pain shot to my back and I doubled over. The pain shot down through my back through to my legs. I couldn't move -- the pain was continuous."
On the next day, he was sent to the hospital by his personal physician, who, after examination, originally diagnosed the cause of the pain as that of a back sprain. When the pain did not subside after treatment, Yuhas was referred by his personal physician to Dr. Casale, an orthopedic surgeon. Dr. Casale diagnosed Yuhas' problem as "spondylolysis of the lumbar spine." Dr. Casale defined this as follows: "Spondylolysis is a condition characterized by the failure of union, or portions of the posterior element of a vertebral segment. Such conditions are felt to be conducive to an underlying instability in the spine, thus effecting its function. Many of these cases remain asymptomatic until brought to light by some heavy exertion, accident or trauma." Dr. Casale also noted that Yuhas had "a congenital lesion in the lumbar region." Later, Yuhas' personal physician, Dr. Zobel, agreed with Dr. Casale's diagnosis. As a result of Dr. Casale's diagnosis, Yuhas
underwent two surgical operations wherein two spinal fusions were performed to correct his back condition. After hearing, the referee concluded that Yuhas had "suffered no accident" and that although his condition "could possibly come under that of an unusual pathological result this, however, is precluded by the fact that the claimant had a pre-existing spondylolysis." In reaching this conclusion, the referee had found that the moving of the piece of steel under the bundle, described hereinbefore, would have "required a good deal of exertion to release it." He also found that "spondylolysis which is basically a displacement of the vertebrae due to degenerative joint disease" had been diagnosed as Yuhas' condition. Furthermore, he found that "Dr. Casale's report stated that the condition of John Yuhas was asymptomatic and he could not say that it was a natural evolution of the degenerative joint disease or that it was brought on by heavy exertion, accident or trauma." On appeal from the referee's adjudication, the Workmen's Compensation Board (Board) affirmed the referee.
The case was then appealed to the court below, and it sustained the appeal of Yuhas. The lower court held that the referee and the Board erred in holding that Yuhas' spondylolysis, which had been asymptomatic before the incident, was a bar to a recovery of compensation under the unusual pathological result doctrine. The court pointed to the record wherein Yuhas stated he had "never had pain and no back trouble ever" and the finding by the referee that the removal of the steel bar would have "required a good deal of exertion to release it." These items, together with Dr. Casale's statement that spondylolysis may remain asymptomatic "until brought to light by some ...