Appeal from the Order of the Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board in case of Robert L. Smith v. Plasteel Products Corporation and Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, No. A-71398.
James R. Miller, with him Noble R. Zuschlag, and Dickie, McCamey & Chilcote, for petitioner.
Benjamin L. Costello, with him Kenneth J. Yablonski, and James N. Diefenderfer, for respondents.
President Judge Bowman and Judges Mencer and Blatt, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Mencer.
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The difficult question presented by this appeal from an order of the Workmen's Compensation Appeal
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Board (Board) concerns the meaning of the term "injury" in occupational disease cases.
After 32 years of work as an underground coal miner, Robert L. Smith was employed by Plasteel Products Corporation (Plasteel) as a general maintenance man, electrician helper, and batch mixer. During his 11 years of service for Plasteel, Smith was regularly required to operate a machine which, through vibrations, sifted sand from mica. The operation generated moderately thick dust, the exact composition of which was unknown to Smith. The dust would remain in the enclosed building where Smith worked.
In July 1974, Smith felt compelled to leave his employment at Plasteel for reasons of health. In November of that year, he applied for benefits under the occupational disease provisions of The Pennsylvania Workmen's Compensation Act (Compensation Act), Act of June 2, 1915, P.L. 736, as amended, 77 P.S. § 1 et seq. During evidentiary hearings before a referee, it became apparent that, at the time he was employed by Plasteel, Smith was already suffering from a pulmonary condition occasioned by his exposure to coal dust in the underground mines, by inactive pulmonary tuberculosis, and by pulmonary emphysema. No evidence indicated that any disease was generated by conditions at Plasteel. However, medical testimony indicated that Smith's lungs were subjected to further injury at Plasteel by exposure to noxious dust, that the dust aggravated Smith's pre-existing diseases, that the aggravated diseases were causally related to Smith's occupation, and that the incidence of the aggravated diseases was substantially greater in his occupation than in the general population.
After the hearings, the referee issued a decision which essentially found the above-mentioned facts
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and which concluded that Smith had met the statutory burdens of proving disability due to injury. The referee's award of benefits was appealed by Plasteel to the Board. Observing that aggravation of a pre-existing disease is included within the definition of injury, the Board affirmed the award. Plasteel's subsequent appeal ...