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HAROLD D. KATZ AND WORKMEN'S COMPENSATION APPEAL BOARD COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA v. EVENING BULLETIN AND EMPLOYERS MUTUAL LIABILITY INSURANCE COMPANY WISCONSIN (07/05/79)

decided: July 5, 1979.

HAROLD D. KATZ AND WORKMEN'S COMPENSATION APPEAL BOARD OF THE COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, APPELLANTS,
v.
THE EVENING BULLETIN AND THE EMPLOYERS MUTUAL LIABILITY INSURANCE COMPANY OF WISCONSIN



No. 559 January Term, 1977, Appeal from the Order dated May 10, 1977 of the Commonwealth Court at No. 1067 C.D. 1976, reversing the Order of the Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board dated May 11, 1976 at Docket No. A-70818.

COUNSEL

Thomas F. McDevitt, Philadelphia, for appellants.

James K. Martin, Philadelphia, for appellee.

Eagen, C. J., and O'Brien, Roberts, Nix, Manderino and Larsen, JJ.

Author: Roberts

[ 485 Pa. Page 538]

OPINION OF THE COURT

Appellant Harold D. Katz was injured in a fall while employed at the plant of appellee The Evening Bulletin, a Philadelphia newspaper. A Workmen's Compensation referee held appellant entitled to compensation under The Pennsylvania Workmen's Compensation Act.*fn1 The award was affirmed unanimously by the Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board. On appeal by the Bulletin and its Workmen's Compensation insurer, appellee The Employers Mutual Liability Company of Wisconsin, the Commonwealth Court held that appellant had failed to give notice in compliance with Section 312 of the Act, 77 P.S. § 632, and therefore overruled the award of compensation to appellant. We granted allocatur and now vacate the order of the Commonwealth Court and remand for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Appellant Katz worked part-time as a substitute "mailer" and "stuffer." In this capacity, he collected newspapers off the presses and, by machine or by hand, stuffed supplements into the papers and stacked them for distribution. Appellant's union, the Mailer's Union, acts as the hiring agent for both the Philadelphia Inquirer and The Evening Bulletin. The newspapers inform the union of the number of substitute part-time mailers they will need on a particular night and the union assigns the jobs to its members.

On May 29, 1970, appellant was directed at the union hall to go that evening to the plant of the Bulletin. Until then, appellant had worked only at the Inquirer. Once at the plant appellant spoke only to the man who showed him to his work area. At the end of his work shift, approximately 2:30 a. m. on the morning of the 30th, appellant left the plant building. In an unlighted area of the employee parking lot, he fell over a broken manhole cover and injured himself. Appellant's workmen's compensation claim arose out of this accident.

[ 485 Pa. Page 539]

Section 311 of The Pennsylvania Workmen's Compensation Act, 77 P.S. § 631, makes notice to the employer within 120 days of an injury arising in the course of employment a prerequisite to compensation under the Act. We recognize as a threshold principle of construction "that [c]courts should not read into The Workmen's Compensation Act a stricter requirement than the language of the Act imports in regard to notice of an accident. It must be liberally construed" to effect the purposes of the provision. McCann v. Cross Bros. Meat Packers, 205 Pa. Super. 255, 257, 208 A.2d 887, 889 (1965). See e. g., Plasteel Products Corp. v. Workmen's Compensation Appeal Bd., 32 Pa. Commw. 405, 379 A.2d 908 (1977) (obligation of court to liberally construe Act so that its humanitarian purpose of protecting workmen is realized); General Tire & Rubber Co. v. Workmen's Compensation Appeal Bd., 16 Pa. Commw. 473, 332 A.2d 867 (1975). The notice provisions of the Act permit an employer to investigate claims while the events in question are still recent. Notice may also warn an employer of dangerous employment conditions and, thus, facilitate their speedy correction. See Padilla v. Chain Bike Corp., 27 Pa. Commw. 190, 365 A.2d 903 (1976); McCann, supra; Wilkinson v. United Parcel Service of Pa., 158 Pa. Super. 22, 43 A.2d 408 (1945); Dorsch v. Fisher Scientific Co., 136 Pa. Super. 197, 7 A.2d 604 (1939).

[ 485 Pa. Page 540]

Section 312 of the Act specifies that notice "shall inform the employer that a certain employe received an injury, described in ordinary language, in the course of his employment on or about a specified time, at or near a place specified." Appellee contends that here Section 312 was not satisfied. Whether notice has been given is a question of fact. Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board v. Caves, 22 Pa. Commw. 102, 347 A.2d 761 (1975); Wilkinson, supra. The referee is the ultimate factfinder where, as here, the appeals board takes no additional evidence. E. g., Sears, Roebuck & Co. v. Workmen's Compensation Appeals Board, 32 Pa. Commw. 330, 379 A.2d 648 (1977). And the facts found by the referee are binding on reviewing courts. See Dunlap v. Page 540} Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board, 17 Pa. Commw. 19, 330 A.2d 555 (1975). The referee found that the employer received adequate notice. See Page's Department Store v. Velardi, 464 Pa. 276, 346 A.2d 556 (1975) (1972 amendments to Act limiting board's review of fact-finding to determining whether referee's findings supported by competent evidence procedural and applicable to claims prior to 1972). Thus, we are limited to an examination of whether there is competent, substantial evidence in the record to support the fact-finder's ...


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