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LATROBE STEEL COMPANY AND PENNSYLVANIA MANUFACTURERS' ASSOCIATION INSURANCE CO. v. COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA (04/02/79)

decided: April 2, 1979.

LATROBE STEEL COMPANY AND PENNSYLVANIA MANUFACTURERS' ASSOCIATION INSURANCE CO., PETITIONERS
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, WORKMEN'S COMPENSATION APPEAL BOARD AND GERALDINE DOMINICK, WIDOW OF RICHARD DOMINICK, DECEASED, RESPONDENTS



Appeal from the Order of the Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board in case of Richard Dominick, Deceased; Geraldine Dominick, Widow v. Latrobe Steel Company, No. A-72717.

COUNSEL

H. Reginald Belden, Jr., with him Stewart, Belden, Sensenich & Herrington, for petitioners.

John M. Campfield, with him Scales and Shaw, for respondents.

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

Author: Macphail

[ 41 Pa. Commw. Page 461]

Richard Dominick (Employee) died April 20, 1974, at his place of employment in the hammer shop of Latrobe Steel Company (Employer). His widow, Geraldine Dominick (Claimant) on behalf of herself and four minor children filed a claim petition for workmen's compensation benefits. The referee found that the Employee suffered a work-related injury which resulted in his death and awarded benefits to the Claimant. The Employer appealed to the Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board (Board) which affirmed the referee. In the subsequent appeal to this Court, Employer contends that there was insufficient unequivocal clear evidence upon which to base a finding that the Employee died as the result of electrocution.

To say the least, the factual context is interesting. No one was with the Employee when he died. However, the record is clear that the Employee reported for work at his customary time and appeared to be in good health immediately prior to his body being found. Shortly after arriving for work, he was heard to say that it was hot. When last seen he was proceeding in the direction of a man-cooling fan. A few minutes later he was found by a fellow employee lying face down with a cable from the fan across his right leg. The condition of the fan at and prior to the Employee's

[ 41 Pa. Commw. Page 462]

    death can best be summarized as hazardous. Testimony before the referee indicated that some employees were so distrustful of the fan that they would cut off the main source of power before plugging it in. Immediately after the accident, the fan was tested for leakage, and some was detected. The fan was then removed and completely overhauled.

Claimant's medical witness was the Coroner of Allegheny County, Dr. Cyril H. Wecht. The Allegheny County Coroner's office (upon the examination of another pathologist) first determined that the Employee died from natural causes. After an exhumation and re-examination of Employee's body, Dr. Wecht testified that in his opinion the Employee died as the result of electrocution. He did say that he could not testify with a reasonable degree of medical certainty that the mechanism of death was ventricular fibrillation or a depression of the medullar centers or both. He found physical evidence on the Employee from which he opined that electric current entered the Employee's body through the right hand and exited through the Employee's right foot.

The Employer presented the testimony of an electrical engineer who conducted tests on the boots worn by the Employee at the time of his death. That witness said that on the basis of those tests and an examination of the boots themselves, and given the facts and circumstances regarding the voltage and other conditions relating to the fan, it would have been impossible for the Employee to have absorbed enough electrical current to create the sensation of a shock let alone electrocute the Employee. The Employer also called a pathologist who had not examined the Employee's body but who read all of the reports and testimony concerning the happening of the accident and its alleged causes. In answer to a hypothetical question the witness testified that he could find no

[ 41 Pa. Commw. Page 463]

    positive evidence that the Employee's death occurred by reason of electrocution. He testified further that he could "almost" say that if the Employee did die from electrocution, such a conclusion "flies in opposition to all the recognized criteria relating to electrical current and electrocution therefrom." The referee stated in his ...


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