No. 80-3-671 Appeal from the Order of the Commonwealth Court Dated March 31, 1980, No. 2943, C.D. 1978, Affirming the Decision of the Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board Dated December 7, 1978, No. A-75337, Dismissing Petitioner's Claim Petition
Robert S. Robbins, Philadelphia, for appellants.
David L. Pennington, Susan McLaughlin, Philadelphia, for N.L. Industries.
Sandra S. Christianson, Harrisburg, for Com.
O'Brien, C.j., and Roberts, Nix, Flaherty, McDermott and Hutchinson, JJ. Flaherty, J., files a concurring opinion. Roberts, C.j., concurs in the result. Larsen, J., did not participate in the consideration or decision of this case. O'Brien, Former C.j., and Hutchinson, J., did not participate in the decision of this case.
This is an appeal from the Commonwealth Court, 50 Pa. Commw. 279, 412 A.2d 912, decision affirming the order of the Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board (Board) dismissing appellant's petition for widow's benefits.*fn1 The issue is whether appellant satisfied her statutory burden of proving that her husband's death resulted from an occupational disease, as required under Section 301(c)(2) of the Pennsylvania Workmen's Compensation Act.*fn2 Consistent with our holding today in McCloskey v. Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board, we affirm the order of the Commonwealth Court.
Appellant, Lossie Manuel, filed a Fatal Claim Petition on December 23, 1975, alleging that the death of her husband, Ester B. Manuel (deceased), was the result of an occupational disease, lead poisoning, contracted while he was employed by N.L. Industries, Industrial Chemical Division (employer). The employer's records disclosed that decedent was monitored and treated for lead poisoning beginning in 1946 and continuing through the period of his employment. Decedent expired on August 19, 1975; the cause of death was listed on decedent's death certificate as heart failure, and tuberculosis and diabetes mellitus were listed as contributing causes. Claimant's medical witness testified that lead poisoning helped cause the death of decedent by weakening his resistance to the symptoms of heart failure. The Referee accepted this testimony and awarded benefits, concluding that "Decedent's lead poisoning . . . contributed to and accelerated" decedent's demise.
On appeal, the Board reversed the Referee's award, finding that the claimant had not shown by unequivocal medical
testimony that decedent's death resulted from lead poisoning. The Board examined the testimony of claimant's medical witness and found that it failed to establish a sufficient causal relationship between the decedent's lead poisoning and his heart failure and resultant death. The Commonwealth Court affirmed.
Both the Board and the Commonwealth Court in this case relied upon that court's decision in Consolidation Coal Co. v. Workmen's Compensation Board of Appeal, 37 Pa. Commw. 412, 391 A.2d 14 (1978). The Commonwealth Court there held that "the Act requires medical evidence to be presented which establishes that a claimant's death resulted from an occupational disease, not simply that the disease was a contributing factor" (emphasis supplied). 37 Pa. Commw. at 422, 391 A.2d at 19. Here, the medical testimony adduced by appellant established that lead poisoning was one of several afflictions which weakened decedent to the point where he was susceptible to his fatal heart failure. Other debilitating factors included diabetes, tuberculosis, and a previous myocardial infarction. Both the Board and the court below concluded that ...