Appeal from the Order of the Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board in case of Mary L. Bowes v. Inter-Community Action, Inc., Mental Health & Retardation Center, No. A-75415.
Thomas F. McDevitt, for petitioner.
Peter J. Weber, with him Lowell A. Reed, Jr., Patricia A. Mattern and Rawle & Henderson, for respondents.
Judges Rogers, Blatt and Williams, Jr., sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Rogers. President Judge Bowman did not participate in the decision in this case.
[ 49 Pa. Commw. Page 613]
Mary L. Bowes has appealed from a decision of the Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board affirming a referee's decision denying her benefits on the ground that she had not proven a compensable injury within the meaning of Section 301(c) of The Pennsylvania Workmen's Compensation Act, Act of June 2, 1915, P.L. 736, as amended, 77 P.S. § 411. We affirm.
Mrs. Bowes was last employed as a mental health worker by Inter-Community Action, Inc., Mental Health and Retardation Center (Interact), an outpatient mental health clinic. Mrs. Bowes' principal duty was to conduct first interviews with patients and to refer them to the appropriate members of the clinical staff. On August 30, 1973 she interviewed Mrs. Lawrence Milillo, a woman who had recently been discharged from a mental hospital and who came to Interact on that day because she was in distress and had been unable to consult her treating psychiatrist. Mrs. Milillo's husband was with her on this visit. Their purpose was to obtain immediate psychiatric treatment for Mrs. Milillo. There were no psychiatrists at Interact on August 30, 1973 -- the Thursday before the
[ 49 Pa. Commw. Page 614]
Labor Day weekend -- and none were available by telephone. Mrs. Bowes suggested that Mrs. Milillo call the physician covering for her regular psychiatrist or that she attempt to see a psychiatrist at a nearby hospital. Mrs. Milillo was unhappy with the suggestions but she and her husband accepted the telephone number of the covering physician which Mrs. Bowes obtained for them. About a week later, Mr. Milillo telephoned Mrs. Bowes to tell her that his wife had committed suicide less than three days after the August 30, 1973 interview. He did not blame her for his wife's death at that time but the news of the suicide upset Mrs. Bowes. Shortly thereafter, while attending a staff meeting, Mrs. Bowes saw Mrs. Milillo's funeral procession at a funeral home across the street from the Interact office and became too upset to remain at the meeting. She continued to work. On October 13, 1973, while at home, she read in a local newspaper a letter to the editor from Mr. Milillo sharply critical of her attitude at the interview of August 30, 1973, which he described as curt and hostile and of her failure to arrange for Mrs. Milillo's admission to a hospital. Mrs. Bowes interpreted the letter as blaming her for Mrs. Milillo's death. She was distraught and unable to eat or sleep for several days. She missed one day of work because of her condition. When she returned to work she experienced intermittent pains in her shoulders, back, arms and face. Mrs. Bowes was examined by her personal physician on October 22, 1973 and was admitted to a hospital with a diagnosis of myocardial infarction. She has not worked since that time.
Mrs. Bowes filed a claim petition for workmen's compensation benefits, alleging that her heart attack was caused by "overexertion, stress and strain" in her work as a mental health worker for Interact. A referee, after hearings at which the claimant and her medical expert witness testified, found that Mrs.
[ 49 Pa. Commw. Page 615]
Bowes had suffered a "cataclysmic emotional collapse" after reading Mr. Milillo's letter in the local newspaper and that this collapse caused her heart attack. He concluded, however, that the heart attack did not arise in the course of her employment as required by Section 301(c) of the Act because the event which caused the heart attack, the reading of the letter, occurred while she was at home and not while she was actually engaged in furthering the business affairs of her employer. The referee therefore denied benefits. Mrs. Bowes appealed the referee's decision to the Appeal Board which affirmed the referee. This appeal followed.
Section 301(c) was amended by the Act of March 29, 1972, P.L. 159, § 7. The provisions of Section 301(c) pertinent to these proceedings were changed as follows, with the added language ...