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DANIEL THOMAS v. COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA (12/18/80)

decided: December 18, 1980.

DANIEL THOMAS, PETITIONER
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, WORKMEN'S COMPENSATION APPEAL BOARD AND ATLANTIC REFINING COMPANY, RESPONDENTS



Appeal from the Order of the Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board in case of Daniel Thomas v. Atlantic Richfield Company, No. A-74981.

COUNSEL

Robert A. Polin, for petitioner.

Susan McLaughlin, with her David L. Pennington, for respondent, Atlantic Refining Company.

Judges Mencer, Rogers and Palladino, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Palladino.

Author: Palladino

[ 55 Pa. Commw. Page 450]

This is an appeal by Daniel Thomas (claimant) from an order of the Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board (Board) reversing the referee and denying claimant compensation for a psychiatric disability.

Claimant had been employed as a laborer for over twenty years at Atlantic Refining Company's (ARCO) Philadelphia refinery when on May 11, 1970, a fire occurred at the refinery, the heat from which burned the claimant. Claimant saw at least one fellow employee fatally burned by this fire. Claimant was told to, and did, report to work for the next six months but he was not given any work to perform although he was paid his full salary. A polio victim at age three, claimant suffers from a hunchback deformity of the spine and a withered right leg. Up until May 11, 1970, he was, however, able to perform all of his physical tasks satisfactorily. After the fire, he complained of his right leg giving him "trouble", due to running to get out of the fire, and he was allowed to

[ 55 Pa. Commw. Page 451]

    take a job as a "houseman" which entailed working inside a central room monitoring equipment gauges. Also after the fire, claimant began to experience emotional problems such as irritability, restlessness, depression and anxiety about working in the vicinity of fire. He also had difficulty sleeping and nightmares about fire.

In 1971, there was an explosion, but no fire, at the refinery 75 yards from the control room where claimant was situated. Also in 1971, claimant suffered a "nervous breakdown" and was home for six weeks under his family physician's care. Another fire occurred in 1974, 100 feet away from the claimant, again while he was in the control room.

In 1974, a company order directed that every employee learn more than one job and the claimant was assigned to an outside "second operator" position requiring substantial climbing. Although claimant did not want to do this job because of problems he had with his leg, spine, and neck, he worked as a second operator for about one year.

On August 17, 1975 claimant watched a television news broadcast concerning a nearby Gulf refinery fire. On August 19, 1975, he was sent home from work because of high blood pressure after seeing the company physician and complaining of a "nervousness" like "a palsy". The company doctor referred him to his family physician. Because his family physician had died, claimant went to Dr. Sulman, an osteopath in general practice. Dr. Sulman treated the claimant for high blood pressure and upon hearing claimant's history of sleeplessness and anxiety, referred him to a Dr. ...


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