Appeal from the Order of the Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board in the case of Anthony Aversa, No. A-77914.
William E. Averona, for petitioner.
John C. Janos, with him Joseph R. Thompson, for respondent, Hygrade Meats.
Judges Williams, Jr., MacPhail and Palladino, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Palladino.
[ 63 Pa. Commw. Page 613]
Petitioner (Claimant-employe) appeals an order of the Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board (Board) which affirmed a referee's denial of benefits to Claimant pursuant to Section 301(c)(1) of The Pennsylvania Workmen's Compensation Act (Act), Act of June 2, 1915, P.L. 736, as amended, 77 P.S. § 411(1). We affirm the Board's order.
Before the referee Claimant asserted that in May of 1974 he injured his back while working and consequently underwent back surgery. During his post-operative recovery period Claimant received health and accident benefits from his employer, but did not seek, and thus did not receive, workmen's compensation benefits. In April of 1975 Claimant returned to work, initially performing light duties and later performing his regular, pre-injury assignments. Claimant further testified that in May of 1976 he again injured his back while working and became unable to continue his employment.
The issue before this Court is whether Claimant's inability to work has resulted from an injury suffered in the course of employment or, as the referee and Board found, from the natural progression of a debilitating, non-occupational disease.
In workmen's compensation cases the claimant must prove his eligibility for benefits. Thomas v. Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board, 57 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 117, 425 A.2d 1192 (1981); Halaski v. Hilton Hotel, 487 Pa. 313, 409 A.2d 367 (1979). "[A] claimant's right of recovery is dependent upon the successful establishment that the injury occurred in the course of employment and is related thereto." Halaski v. Hilton Hotel, 487 Pa. at 318, 409 A.2d at 369; Section 301(c)(1) of the Act. If the causal nexus between a claimant's injury and his employment is not obvious, "causality must be established by unequivocal
[ 63 Pa. Commw. Page 614]
medical testimony." Breen v. Pennsylvania Crime Commission, 52 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 41, 44, 415 A.2d 148, 149 (1980); Matakonis v. Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board, 52 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 567, 415 A.2d 1286 (1980). "[T]he claimant is entitled to recovery if he . . . can establish by competent medical evidence that the disability resulted from the new injury, and not from the normal progress of the pre-existing physical defect." Halaski v. Hilton Hotel, 487 Pa. at 318, 409 A.2d at 369; Matakonis.
Because the party with the burden of proof has not prevailed below, this Court's scope of review consists of determining whether the factual findings are consistent with each other and with the conclusions of law and can be sustained without a capricious disregard of competent evidence. Republic Steel Corp. v. Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board, 56 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 57, 423 A.2d 1142 (1981).
In this appeal Claimant contends that the referee not only capriciously disregarded competent medical evidence of a work-connected injury but also failed to remain ...