Appeal from the Order of the Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board in case of Nicholas Battiste, deceased, Stella Battiste, Widow of, v. Atlas Hospital Equipment Co., No. A-75332.
Edward G. Kuyat, Jr., of Kuyat & Walker, for petitioners.
Richard J. Russell, for respondent.
Judges Mencer, Craig and Williams, Jr., sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Williams, Jr.
[ 51 Pa. Commw. Page 359]
The petitioners appeal from an order of the Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board awarding dependent widow benefits to claimant Stella Battiste, under Section 307 of The Pennsylvania Workmen's Compensation Act.*fn1 The Board's order affirmed an award by the referee.
[ 51 Pa. Commw. Page 360]
The claimant is the widow of one Nicholas Battiste, who died on November 7, 1974, as the result of an injury sustained on October 24, 1974 in the course of his employment at the Atlas Hospital Equipment Company, one of the instant petitioners. In February 1975, Mrs. Battiste filed a claim for dependent widow benefits. On September 15, 1975 the referee entered an award for the claimant and her dependent son. That award, in its initial form, granted compensation to the claimant at the weekly rate of $45.00 from November 7, 1974 for herself and her dependent son until he reached the age of eighteen, on April 24, 1975. Thereafter the claimant would receive $39.00 a week. The rate of compensation was subsequently changed to $90.00 a week for the claimant and her son until he reached eighteen; and thereafter the claimant would receive $76.50 a week.
When the award was entered on September 15, 1975 the petitioners appealed to the Board, challenging the proof as to the locus of the decedent's accident and the proof as to the claimant's dependency on the decedent. As a result of that appeal the Board remanded for additional evidence as to the place of the decedent's accident. After a remand hearing on January 25, 1977 the referee again found for the claimant. And again the petitioners appealed to the Board, asserting that there was not substantial evidence that the decedent was injured on the employer's premises or substantial evidence to permit a finding of dependency. The Board ordered yet another remand hearing, this time to reconstruct certain testimony because the transcript of the previous remand hearing had been lost. The new remand hearing was held on May 23, 1978; and again the referee entered an award for the claimant.
Once more the petitioners appealed to the Board. In that appeal they no longer contested the locus of
[ 51 Pa. Commw. Page 361]
the accident or that the decedent was injured in the course of employment. The petitioners' sole contention was that the evidence did not support a finding that the claimant was dependent within the meaning of Section 307 of the Act. On that occasion the Board affirmed the referee and dismissed the appeal. It is from that order that the petitioners have appealed to this Court, still insisting that there is not substantial record evidence to support a finding of dependency within the meaning of Section 307.
The referee found that the claimant, at the time of the decedent's death, was dependent upon him for support. The referee expressly based that finding on the testimony given by the claimant and her son. That finding is amply supported by the claimant's testimony that the decedent paid all her monthly household bills, including electric, water, gas, car loan and credit accounts. She also testified that the decedent sent her $45.00 a week. The claimant's son testified that each week the decedent gave him $45.00 to deliver to her. Even though the claimant had been separated from the decedent for 15 months at the time of his death, the evidence clearly supports the finding that the decedent was providing support at the time of his death, and that the claimant was dependent on that support. We have specifically held that whether a claimant under Section 307 of the Act is dependent is a question of fact to be ...