Appeal from the Order of the Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board in case of William J. Smith, Deceased; Virginia S. Smith, Widow v. Copperweld Corporation, No. A-80581.
Richard D. Gilardi, with him James A. Dattilo, Gilardi & Cooper, for petitioner.
Richard G. Spagnolli, McArdle, Caroselli, Spagnolli & Beachler, for respondent, Virginia Smith, widow.
President Judge Crumlish, Jr. and Judges MacPhail and Doyle, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge MacPhail.
[ 73 Pa. Commw. Page 479]
Claimant*fn1 was awarded workmen's compensation benefits by a referee whose decision was affirmed by the Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board (Board). The employer*fn2 filed the instant appeal.
Claimant's husband died on September 1, 1977 after collapsing in the employer's cafeteria during regular working hours. In the several years prior to his death, the employee's*fn3 work responsibilities as a payroll clerk had escalated dramatically by reason of
[ 73 Pa. Commw. Page 480]
the retirement of his supervisor whose duties he assumed and the computerization of the payroll office for which he was responsible. In hospitalizations occurring in 1975, 1976 and 1977, the employee had been diagnosed as having, inter alia, essential hypertension for which he was treated. The cause of death was given as a coronary occlusion. The foregoing facts were found by the referee from substantial evidence in the record.
The referee also considered the opinions of two physicians -- Dr. Tolchin who had treated the employee and who testified as a witness for the Claimant and Dr. Wecht who had not treated the employee and who testified for the employer. Dr. Tolchin testified essentially that the employee's stress from his employment aggravated his pre-existing hypersensitive cardiovascular disease and contributed to his death. Dr. Wecht testified in his opinion, absent an autopsy, that any stress suffered by the employee associated with his work program was not causally related to his death. The referee found Dr. Tolchin's testimony to be the more credible.
Employer's sole issue in this appeal is whether Dr. Tolchin's testimony, taken as a whole, is substantial evidence to support the referee's finding that the employee's work-related stress aggravated his pre-existing physical problems and thereby contributed to his death.
It is well settled that in a workmen's compensation case where an allegedly compensable death is in part attributable to a pre-existing pathology, the claimant must prove by unequivocal medical evidence that the decedent's work activities did aggravate the claimant's pre-existing condition and did contribute to his death. Modern ...