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SOFIA SERAFIN v. COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA (11/16/81)

decided: November 16, 1981.

SOFIA SERAFIN, PETITIONER
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, WORKMEN'S COMPENSATION APPEAL BOARD AND THE SCHOOL DISTRICT OF PHILADELPHIA, RESPONDENTS



Appeal from the Order of the Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board on case of Sofia Serafin v. The School District of Philadelphia, No. A-78858.

COUNSEL

S. Regen Ginsburg, for petitioner.

Robert T. Lear, for respondent, The School District of Philadelphia.

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

Author: Macphail

[ 62 Pa. Commw. Page 415]

Sofia Serafin (Appellant) appeals to this Court from an order of the Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board (Board) which reversed the decision of a referee granting workmen's compensation benefits and dismissed Appellant's claim petition.

Appellant worked for the School District of Philadelphia (District) as a teacher's aide at the Calvary Episcopal Church in the District's Get Set Program from the fall of 1974 through November 1, 1977. During this three-year period, Appellant alleges that she was subjected to continuous harassment by co-workers, which she contends was racially based,*fn1 which ultimately caused Appellant to become totally disabled in November, 1977.

Appellant filed a claim petition on January 25, 1979. After conducting four hearings on the petition, the referee granted workmen's compensation benefits after finding that Appellant had developed a "psychoneurosis" as a result of her employment which caused her to become completely disabled in November, 1977. On appeal, the Board reversed the referee's decision finding, inter alia, that the referee had relied on an improper hypothetical question posed to Appellant's treating physician, Dr. Boerner, and that the referee failed to identify Appellant's "injury" in his findings of fact.

The issues presented for our disposition in the instant appeal are: 1) whether the Board erred in reversing the referee's finding that Appellant met her burden of proving a work-related injury; 2) whether the Board erred in finding the hypothetical question posed to Appellant's physician improper; and, 3)

[ 62 Pa. Commw. Page 416]

    whether the Board should have remanded the matter to the referee for further proceedings with respect to the hypothetical question.

With regard to the issue of whether Appellant met her burden of proving a work-related injury, this Court has recognized that since Section 301(c)(1) of The Pennsylvania Workmen's Compensation Act (Act)*fn2 no longer requires that an "injury" be to the "physical structure of the body," work-related mental illness can be a compensable injury. University of Pittsburgh v. Perlman, 49 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 347, 405 A.2d 1048 (1979). Where, as here, there is no obvious causal relationship between a claimant's work and her injury, unequivocal medical evidence must be produced to establish the causal connection. United States Steel Corp. v. Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board, 55 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 250, 422 A.2d 1243 (1980). Section 301(c)(1) of the Act also requires that an injury arise in the course of employment in order for it to be compensable. Lanzarotta v. Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board, 42 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 284, 400 A.2d 697 (1979).

Appellant attempted to meet her burden of proving a work-related injury through the medical testimony of her treating physician. The District presented no medical evidence in rebuttal. The referee accepted the testimony of ...


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