Appeal from the Order of the Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board in the case of Olga Porochniak v. Container Corporation of America, No. A-79869.
Marc S. Jacobs, Galfand, Berger, Senesky, Lurie and March, for petitioner.
M. Kelly Tillery, Obermayer, Rebmann, Maxwell & Hippel, for respondent, Container Corporation of America.
President Judge Crumlish and Judges Rogers and Blatt, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Blatt. Judge Mencer did not participate in the decision in this case.
[ 67 Pa. Commw. Page 370]
Olga Porochniak (claimant) appeals here from an order of the Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board (Board) which reversed a referee's grant of compensation benefits.
The claimant worked for the Container Corporation of America for approximately twenty-one years as a packer on an assembly line. On or about June 18, 1976, she injured her neck while stretching and twisting in the performance of her job of folding and lifting 50 pound cartons of boxes on a conveyor belt, whereupon she experienced both severe pain in her neck and difficulty in moving her right arm. Although in pain, she managed to finish her shift and to work the following day, after which she informed her employer that, due to the severity of her pain, she was no longer able to work. Following surgery on her neck, she returned to work on December 1, 1976 and continued in her job until April 15, 1977, at which time she again became disabled as a result of her neck injury and she has remained disabled.
The referee found, inter alia, that:
6. Claimant then saw her family doctor, who referred her to Dr. Gregory Lignelli, a board certified neurosurgeon, who immediately hospitalized her in the Pottstown Memorial Medical Center and performed surgery on the right side of her neck.
7. It was Dr. Lignelli's opinion, which the Referee accepts, that the Claimant's work activity aggravated pre-existing degenerative changes in her neck, his exact diagnosis was "cervical spondylosis and midline spur, C-4, C-5, et cetera." These conditions were aggravated to the point where she could no longer perform her job, either before or after surgery.
[ 67 Pa. Commw. Page 371]
The referee then concluded that the claimant had established by competent evidence that she had sustained a work-related injury which had resulted in periods of total disability from June 18, 1976 through November 30, 1976 and from April 16, 1977 into the future. The Board, however, concluded on appeal that the medical evidence upon which the referee had relied was equivocal and, therefore, incompetent, and reversed. It is from this order of the Board that the claimant appeals here.
Where, as here, the party with the burden of proof prevailed before the referee and the Board took no additional evidence, our scope of review is limited to determining whether or not constitutional rights were violated, an error of law was committed, or a necessary finding of fact was unsupported by substantial evidence. American Refrigerator Equipment Company v. Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board, 31 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 590, 377 A.2d 1007 (1977). The party who prevailed below is, of course, entitled to the benefit of the most favorable inferences to be drawn from the evidence. American Refrigerator.
Under Section 301(c) of The Workmen's Compensation Act (Act), Act of June 2, 1915, P.L. 736, as amended, 77 P.S. § 411(1), an injury
shall be construed to mean an injury to an employe, regardless of his previous physical condition, arising in the course of his employment and related thereto, and such disease or infection as naturally results from the injury or is aggravated, reactivated or accelerated by the injury. . . .
[ 67 Pa. Commw. Page 372]
A claimant is, therefore, entitled to compensation for an injury attributable to aggravation of a pre-existing condition upon his showing that he suffered a disabling injury in the course of and related to his employment. Cooper-Jarrett, Inc. v. Workmen's Compensation Page 372} Appeal Board, 55 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 204, 423 A.2d 52 (1980).
The claimant's physician, a board-certified neurosurgeon, was asked if he was able to state an opinion based upon a reasonable degree of medical certainty as to whether or not her work activity in any way caused or ...