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WORKMEN'S COMPENSATION APPEAL BOARD COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA AND LUE ADA SEAGRAVES v. PENNSYLVANIA-BRADFORD APPLIANCE CORPORATION AND PENNSYLVANIA MANUFACTURERS' ASSOCIATION INSURANCE COMPANY (04/01/75)

decided: April 1, 1975.

WORKMEN'S COMPENSATION APPEAL BOARD OF THE COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA AND LUE ADA SEAGRAVES, WIDOW OF JOSEPH W. SEAGRAVES, APPELLEES,
v.
PENNSYLVANIA-BRADFORD APPLIANCE CORPORATION AND PENNSYLVANIA MANUFACTURERS' ASSOCIATION INSURANCE COMPANY, INSURANCE CARRIER, APPELLANTS



Appeal from the Order of the Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board in case of Lue Ada Seagraves, Widow of Joseph W. Seagraves, Deceased, v. Pennsylvania-Bradford Appliance Corporation, No. A-61173.

COUNSEL

John F. McElvenny, for appellants.

Stanley M. Poplow, with him James N. Diefenderfer, for appellees.

Judges Wilkinson, Jr., Mencer and Blatt, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Wilkinson.

Author: Wilkinson

[ 18 Pa. Commw. Page 244]

In this gruesome Workmen's Compensation case, it is conceded that claimant-appellee's decedent was killed when his head was crushed in a large press machine used to force-fit tops on boilers or tanks. The question to be determined is whether the decedent's death was accidental or whether the death was intentionally self-inflicted. The referee found that the decedent inserted

[ 18 Pa. Commw. Page 245]

    his head into the machine to bring about his own demise and denied compensation. The Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board reversed the referee and found that decedent's death was accidental and awarded compensation. Employer-appellant now appeals to this Court.

We note that the Workmen's Compensation law places the burden of proof on the employer when it is claimed the death was intentionally self-inflicted. Section 301(a) of The Pennsylvania Workmen's Compensation Act, Act of June 2, 1915, P.L. 736, as amended, 77 P.S. ยง 431 (Supp. 1974-1975). The actions of the Board in this case must be evaluated in light of the 1972 Amendments to the Workmen's Compensation Act and this Court's decision in Universal Cyclops Steel Corporation v. Krawczynski, 9 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 176, 305 A.2d 757 (1973). Since the Board took no additional evidence, they have no power to vacate findings by the referee that are supported by competent evidence. Universal Cyclops, supra. In order to determine if the Board exceeded its appellate scope of review function by vacating the referee's finding that the decedent committed suicide, we must make a somewhat detailed review of the evidence presented by the employer-appellant.

Testimony given by one of decedent's co-workers, the operator of the machine, shows that the decedent, approximately 60 to 90 minutes before the incident, went to the machine (where he was not assigned to work) and ran the machine through a cycle of operation without any materials being in it. He further testified that when questioned about his actions, decedent made an inaudible answer and walked away. The machine operator also disclosed that the machine was operating properly and had not malfunctioned in any way while he was the operator. He detailed the two steps necessary to turn the machine on and operate it (involving the pushing of a button some 10 feet from the machine and the operation

[ 18 Pa. Commw. Page 246]

    of a lever on the machine), and said that the closing of the press on the machine took approximately four seconds. He further stated that he definitely turned off the machine when he left for lunch, a few minutes before decedent was found in the machine.

Decedent's foreman testified that decedent was a very good worker but that "a couple of days before [the incident] he seemed to be in some kind of mood . . . where he was not talking to anybody . . . was standing there and staring into space . . . not paying attention to anyone" and that other workers had also noticed this unusual behavior. The foreman also disclosed ...


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