Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Schuylkill County in case of Andrew M. Makar, deceased v. P & R C & I Co. and Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, No. S-546 March Term, 1976.
Laurence W. Dague, Assistant Attorney General, for appellant.
Calvin J. Friedberg, Williamson, Friedberg & Jones, for appellee.
Judges Mencer, Craig and MacPhail, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge MacPhail.
The only issue raised on this appeal is whether the order of the Court of Common Pleas of Schuylkill County affirming an award of funeral expenses, pursuant to Section 307(8) of The Pennsylvania Occupational Disease Act (Act), Act of June 21, 1939, P.L. 566, as amended, 77 P.S. § 1407(8), to Andrew M. Makar (Appellee) following the death of his father was supported by substantial evidence. Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Columbus Service International and Underwriters Adjusting Co. v. Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board, 17 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 441, 444, 333 A.2d 233, 236 (1975). The party prevailing below (here, Appellee) is entitled to the benefit of the most favorable inferences to be drawn from the evidence on appeal. Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board v. Sullivan, 22 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 386, 388,
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A.2d 925, 926 (1975). We hold that the award was based on substantial evidence.
The facts of this case are relatively undisputed. In 1956, Appellee's father (Decedent) was awarded lifetime benefits as a result of total disability arising out of exposure to silica dust. On January 15, 1975, Decedent died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Appellee filed a petition for compensation pursuant to the Act alleging that Decedent's death, although immediately caused by suicide, was actually caused by his anthracosilicosis. Following a hearing at which Appellee, unrepresented by counsel, testified briefly, and Dr. Carter Davison, Decedent's personal physician, testified at some length, the referee determined that Decedent's death was caused by the anthracosilicosis and awarded $425 in funeral expense benefits to Appellee. The referee's order was affirmed by the Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board (Board) and the Board's order was affirmed by the Court of Common Pleas.
The Commonwealth, in arguing that Appellee failed to prove that Decedent's death resulted from anthracosilicosis, thereby rendering Appellee ineligible to receive funeral expense benefits, relies upon this Court's decision in Consolidation Coal Co. v. Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board, 37 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 412, 391 A.2d 14 (1978). There, at 422, 391 A.2d at 19, we held that in cases considered pursuant to Section 301(c)(2) of The Pennsylvania Workmen's Compensation Act, Act of June 2, 1915, P.L. 736, as amended, 77 P.S. § 411(2), a claimant must present medical evidence which establishes that a decedent's death resulted from an occupational disease, rather than that the disease simply contributed to the death. The same principle, the Commonwealth argues, should apply to cases brought within the Occupational
Disease Act. Without specifically reaching that question, we find that the unequivocal, uncontradicted testimony of Dr. Davison clearly established that Decedent's death did result from anthracosilicosis. Specifically, Dr. Davison testified that "[H]e died as a result of the severe symptomatology which he presented in his lifetime," "His primary cause of death was anthracosilicosis," and "He wouldn't have had the [self-inflicted gunshot] wound [from which he died] if he hadn't had the anthracosilicosis." This testimony adequately satisfies the Consolidation Coal Co. v. Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board standard and supports the award of funeral benefits to Appellee.
The Commonwealth also relies on two Superior Court cases, Berdy v. Glen Alden Corp., 202 Pa. Superior Ct. 525, 198 A.2d 329 (1964), and Zimmiski v. Lehigh Valley Coal Co., 200 Pa. Superior Ct. 524, 189 A.2d 897 (1963), in arguing that Appellee failed to prove that Decedent's suicide should be considered anything other than self-inflicted and voluntary. Both of those cases, in which disabled decedents' dependents were denied compensation under the Act following decedents' deaths by suicide, cited an earlier Superior Court case, Blasczak v. Crown Cork & Seal Co., 193 Pa. Superior Ct. 422, 165 A.2d 128 (1960). The Court in Blasczak at 424, 165 A.2d at 129, had declared that a decedent's death would not be considered to be self-inflicted and his or her dependents would not be denied benefits if the decedent "'killed himself while possessed by an uncontrollable insane impulse or while in a delirium or frenzy, as a direct result of the accident [or, as here, disease] without rational knowledge ...