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INTERNATIONAL PETROLEUM SERVICE v. COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA (06/23/81)

decided: June 23, 1981.

INTERNATIONAL PETROLEUM SERVICE, PETITIONER
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, WORKMEN'S COMPENSATION APPEAL BOARD AND TIMOTHY L. WENZEL, RESPONDENTS



Appeal from the Order of the Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board in case of Timothy L. Wenzel v. International Petroleum Service, No. A-77223.

COUNSEL

William J. Schaaf, with him John C. Brydon, Marsh, Spaeder, Baur, Spaeder & Schaaf, for petitioner.

No appearance for respondent.

President Crumlish and Judges Blatt and MacPhail, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Blatt.

Author: Blatt

[ 60 Pa. Commw. Page 142]

The petitioner*fn1 seeks review of a determination of the Board*fn2 which reversed a referee's decision and reinstated the payment of total disability benefits to the claimant.*fn3

The claimant suffered a fractured elbow on March 1, 1977, in the course of his employment with the petitioner and a compensation agreement was later executed

[ 60 Pa. Commw. Page 143]

    pursuant to which the claimant received benefits for total disability. The petitioner sought to terminate those benefits as of October 4, 1977, but that petition was denied, and a second termination petition was subsequently filed, alleging that the claimant had fully recovered from his injury on or before December 5, 1978. After a hearing and the taking of testimony regarding this second petition, the referee found that, after the claimant's separation from his employment with the petitioner, he had obtained work as a truck driver for Brokenstraw Oil Corporation on June 13, 1978 from which he was discharged on that same day for a reason unrelated to his disability: his involvement in an accident causing extensive damage to his new employer's equipment.*fn4 An employee of Brokenstraw testified that the claimant would still have been employed if not for that accident. The referee thereupon determined that, although the claimant had a residual disability, there was work available which he could perform on June 13, 1978 and his benefits were therefore reduced from total to partial disability. On appeal, the Board reversed, holding that the claimant's disability "could well have caused the accident . . ." which resulted in his discharge and that "[t]he fact that claimant was terminated because of said accident indicates clearly that the said truck driving job was not available to claimant after claimant had experienced the accident." The Board then concluded that the petitioner had not met its burden of proving that work was available which the claimant was capable of performing*fn5 and his total disability compensation was reinstated.

[ 60 Pa. Commw. Page 144]

The petitioner contends that the referee's findings of fact were supported by substantial evidence, that his conclusions of law were consistent with those findings and that the Board erred by substituting its own findings of fact and conclusions of law for those of the referee.*fn6

While we agree there was substantial evidence to support the referee's finding that the claimant's accident was not caused by his disability, we must affirm the Board's conclusion that there was insufficient evidence to show that work was available to the claimant.

The only evidence presented by the petitioner as to the availability of work was the testimony of the employee of Brokenstraw to the effect that the claimant was hired as a truck driver; that he performed that job; that he was discharged due to an accident (which was unrelated to his disability); and that he would still be employed if not for this accident. Such testimony, however, establishes only that employment was available to the claimant sometime in the past and that he performed that ...


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