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GEORGE YUHAS v. WORKMEN'S COMPENSATION APPEAL BOARD (CITY PITTSBURGH) (05/15/84)

decided: May 15, 1984.

GEORGE YUHAS, PETITIONER
v.
WORKMEN'S COMPENSATION APPEAL BOARD (CITY OF PITTSBURGH), RESPONDENTS



Appeal from the Order of the Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board in case of George Yuhas v. City of Pittsburgh, No. A-82946.

COUNSEL

Thomas P. Geer, for petitioner.

Charles P. Falk, with him, Joan P. Feldman, Baskin and Sears, P.C., for respondent.

Judges Rogers, Colins and Barbieri, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Rogers.

Author: Rogers

[ 82 Pa. Commw. Page 391]

This is the appeal of a claimant from an order of the Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board denying him compensation for disability after a heart attack. The claimant contended and at the referee's hearing adduced lay and medical evidence tending to show that his heart attack, a myocardial infarction, was suffered in the course of, and was related to, his employment.

[ 82 Pa. Commw. Page 392]

His employer, the City of Pittsburgh, produced no evidence. The referee in deciding against the claimant found only that "the claimant did not sustain any injury which arose in the course of, and was related to, his employment" and that "whatever disability the claimant may have is not related to his employment." The claimant appealed and the appeal board, characterizing the referee's findings as conclusions, remanded for findings of fact and a new decision. The referee thereupon made numerous findings based on his examination of hospital records which had been routinely admitted into evidence. His conclusions were to the effect that the claimant's heart attack and disability were not suffered in the course of, or related to, his employment.

Familiar principles of administrative law governing judicial review of administrative agencies' treatment of the facts are: that if the agency has decided the case in favor of the party with the burden of proof, review of the record evidence is to determine whether the agency's findings of fact are supported by substantial evidence; but that if the agency has decided the case against the party with the burden, the question on review is that of whether the agency's findings of fact can be sustained without a capricious disregard of competent evidence.

Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla; it means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Pennsylvania State Board of Medical Education and Licensure v. Schireson, 360 Pa. 129, 61 A.2d 343 (1948). Capricious disregard is the willful, deliberate disbelief of an apparently trustworthy witness, whose testimony one of ordinary intelligence could not possibly challenge or entertain the slightest doubt as to the truth. Pusey's Estate, 321 Pa. 248, 184 A. 844 (1936).

[ 82 Pa. Commw. Page 393]

Also familiar is the rule that the administrative agency is the sole judge of the credibility of witnesses, of what evidence shall be accepted as fact, of what weight should be given to items of evidence and of the inferences to be drawn from the evidence. Hamilton Unemployment Compensation Case, 181 Pa. Superior Ct. 113, 124 A.2d 681 (1956).

A product of these rules is that in most cases in which agencies decide in favor of the party with the burden of proof reviewing courts uphold the agencies' findings of fact as supported by substantial evidence; this is because the existence in a record of more than a scintilla of evidence is usually not difficult to discern. Another product of the rules is that where agencies decide cases against the party having the burden of proof, reviewing courts rarely conclude that there has been a capricious disregard of competent evidence; and the reason is that the presence in a record of testimony of an apparently trustworthy witness whose testimony one of ordinary intelligence could not possibly challenge or entertain the slightest doubt as to its truth, is rarely encountered and this is because crucial testimony adduced by the party with the burden is almost always challenged. Lowery v. Pittsburgh Coal Co., 427 Pa. 576, 235 A.2d 805 (1967), however, is a case in which capricious disregard of testimony was discerned and being quite similar on the facts has persuaded us that the same has happened in this case.

In Lowery, the claimant filed a claim under the Occupational Disease Act, asserting disability from silicosis. He died during the proceedings. Physicians testified that the claimant's disability and death were caused by silicosis. The employer offered no medical evidence of any kind. The referee refused to find that the claimant had ...


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