Appeal from the Order of the Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board in the case of William F. Goerlich, deceased, Elizabeth Goerlich, widow of v. Bethlehem Steel Corporation, No. A-77088.
Robert G. Rose, Spence, Custer, Saylor, Wolfe & Rose, for petitioner.
Samuel R. DiFrancesco, for respondent, Elizabeth Goerlich, widow of William F. Goerlich, deceased.
Judges Mencer, Craig and Palladino, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Palladino.
[ 56 Pa. Commw. Page 440]
This is an appeal by Bethlehem Steel Corporation (Bethlehem Steel) from an order of the Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board (Board) reversing a referee's denial of compensation and awarding benefits to Elizabeth Goerlich, the widow of a Bethlehem Steel employee. We reverse.
William Goerlich was employed by Bethlehem Steel for over 20 years as a metallurgic service engineer. The job was customer oriented and required him to spend a great deal of time away from his home office in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. In particular, Mr. Goerlich had responsibilities in and around the Detroit, Michigan area and was in the habit of leaving his home in Johnstown on Monday afternoon and proceeding to the Detroit-Dearborn, Michigan area where he remained to work until Friday before returning home. Mr. Goerlich was so accustomed to his frequent trips to Michigan that he kept his own automobile in Detroit and was a member of the Detroit Athletic Club which he regularly visited during his stays in the area. On Monday, January 26, 1976, after spending most of the day meeting with his superior at the Johnstown plant, Mr. Goerlich flew to Detroit and arrived and registered at the Dearborn Inn at or about 6:46 p.m. From the Inn he proceeded to the Detroit Athletic Club where he arrived at approximately 7:30 p.m. It is undisputed that Mr. Goerlich remained at the club until shortly after midnight and that during his stay he had some drinks while watching the Monday night football game with the club's bowling alley professional and other members of the club. After leaving the club, Mr. Goerlich was involved in a fatal automobile collision on Interstate 94, not far from the Dearborn Inn. Although the bartender at the club testified that he had served Mr. Goerlich only two Stroh's beers during the course of the evening, an
[ 56 Pa. Commw. Page 441]
autopsy performed shortly after the fatal accident revealed that Mr. Goerlich had a .23 blood alcohol content at the time of death. Dr. Sidney A. Goldblatt, an expert witness called by Bethlehem Steel, testified that he had no doubt that a person with a .23 blood alcohol content would be grossly intoxicated and that in his opinion such person's ability to operate a motor vehicle would be significantly impaired. Dr. Goldblatt further testified that a blood alcohol content of .25 would cause most drinkers to lose consciousness or be very close to losing consciousness.
The claimant, Mr. Goerlich's widow, filed a petition for workmen's compensation benefits. In dismissing the petition and denying compensation the referee made the following findings of fact:
10. Decedent, from the time of his arrival at the Dearborn Inn at about 6:46 p.m. until his death at about 12:30 a.m. January 27th, 1976, did not have any contact with any business associates. Decedent spent the entire evening socializing with the club's bowling alley professional and other employees of the club. Decedent was not acting to further the business of his employer.
11. Decedent at the time of his death had a blood alcohol content of .23 percent.
12. Decedent was intoxicated while operating his automobile because of the .23 ...