Appeal from the Order of the Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board in case of David N. Pryce v. Bethlehem Mines Corporation, No. A-69005.
Robert G. Rose, with him Spence, Custer, Saylor, Wolfe & Rose, for appellant.
Eugene A. Creany, with him James N. Diefenderfer, for appellees.
Judges Wilkinson, Jr., Rogers and Blatt, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Rogers.
[ 22 Pa. Commw. Page 437]
This is an employer's appeal from an award of medical and hospital expenses in the amount of $475 and of disability payments of about $1000 to a workman who underwent back surgery for the removal of vertebral discs.
The claimant, David N. Pryce, was employed as a welder mechanic for the appellant, Bethlehem Mines. In August 1969 while carrying pipe at his place of employment
[ 22 Pa. Commw. Page 438]
he stumbled, fell and twisted his back. He reported the accident to his employer. X-rays were taken but no other treatment was asked for or provided by the employer. The company doctor told the claimant that there was nothing the matter with his back. The claimant lost at most a few days work at this time. His wife's brother, a chiropractor, gave him some treatments for his sore back after this incident.
On December 22, 1971, Mr. Pryce and a fellow employee were assigned to remove an unneeded steel chute. They removed a piece of the chute weighing several hundred pounds*fn1 and placed it against a handrailing. The claimant stepped on an L-shaped piece of plate causing the plate to tip over on the claimant striking him in the lower part of his back and pinning him against a plank which he was about to place overhead. When the other workman removed the plate from Mr. Pyrce's back, the latter lay prone for a time complaining of back pain. However, he continued to work that day and thereafter until March 1972. He did not file an official report but he reported the accident to his immediate superiors. At the referee's hearing the claimant described his condition after December 22, 1971 as "I was limping all the time; I couldn't stand to sleep in bed, I had to sleep on the floor. I[t] just got so bad I decided to go to the doctor and find out." He consulted Dr. George H. Wheeling who put the claimant in the hospital in traction for a time and finally persuaded the claimant to submit to surgery, which was performed on May 5, 1972 and which consisted of excising the claimant's herniated L4 and L5 discs. The claimant returned to work for Bethlehem Mines on August 21, 1972 as an equipment operator.
Although the claimant testified that he told his physicians of the accident of December 22, 1971, the doctors' histories contain no indication that he did. An intern's
[ 22 Pa. Commw. Page 439]
report contains a notation that there is no history of trauma and Dr. Wheeler's notes and recollection reveal that the claimant related his back problems to the 1969 incident. As a result, Dr. Wheeler was unable to testify with reasonable medical certainty that the disc conditions which he found and corrected were caused by the December 22, 1971 accident. He was able to state that the injuries were consistent with that incident but agreed that they were also consistent with the 1969 incident and with a chronic back ailment. This was not the unequivocal medical testimony required to prove causation. Harrisburg Housing Authority v. Workmen's ...