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EDWARD MILTON LERSCH v. WORKMEN'S COMPENSATION APPEAL BOARD (CITY PITTSBURGH) (01/29/85)

decided: January 29, 1985.

EDWARD MILTON LERSCH, PETITIONER
v.
WORKMEN'S COMPENSATION APPEAL BOARD (CITY OF PITTSBURGH), RESPONDENTS



Appeal from the Order of the Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board in the case of Edward Milton Lersch v. City of Pittsburgh, No. A-82300.

COUNSEL

Ronald P. Koerner, Gatz, Cohen, Segal & Koerner, for petitioner.

Joan Feldman, Baskin and Sears, P.C., for respondent, City of Pittsburgh.

Judges Williams, Jr., Barry and Colins, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Barry.

Author: Barry

[ 87 Pa. Commw. Page 245]

This is an appeal by Edward Milton Lersch (claimant) from an order of the Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board (Board) which affirmed the referee's denial of his claim for benefits under Section 108(o) of The Pennsylvania Workmen's Compensation Act (Compensation Act).*fn1

[ 87 Pa. Commw. Page 246]

Claimant was employed by the City of Pittsburgh (respondent) as a firefighter from July 3, 1937, until June 20, 1979. On December 17, 1979, shortly after he retired, he suffered myocardial infarctions. It was found by the referee that these were caused by a hypertensive and arteriosclerotic heart disease. The referee also found that the heart disease had rendered claimant totally disabled. However, he denied benefits because he concluded that claimant's heart disease did not arise directly out of his employment as a firefighter. The Board affirmed the referee's decision. This appeal followed.

In a workmen's compensation case where the causal connection between employment and injury is not an obvious one, the claimant bears the burden of establishing that link through unequivocal medical testimony. Blackwood Turf and Rockwood Insurance Co. v. Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board, 52 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 638, 415 A.2d 1291 (1980). When the party bearing that burden of proof does not prevail below, our scope of review is limited to a determination of whether the findings of fact are consistent with each other and with the conclusions of law and whether they can be sustained without a capricious disregard of the competent evidence. Wilson v. International Peripheral Systems, Inc., 58 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 38, 427 A.2d 293 (1981).

The issue before us on this appeal is whether one of the referee's findings of fact is inconsistent with the other findings and with his legal conclusions. More specifically, we are concerned with finding of fact No. 8 which states that claimant's employment "contributed to or aggravated" his heart disease and findings of fact No. 16 and No. 17 which basically state that claimant failed to sustain his burden of proof because he "failed to establish a nexus between his alleged

[ 87 Pa. Commw. Page 247]

    injury and his alleged disability." Claimant argues that in order to recover benefits it is sufficient to prove that his job aggravated or contributed to his disability. It is not necessary to prove that his employment was the sole cause of his occupational disease. We agree.

Our Court recently examined this very issue in Stanton v. Ben Rubin Ajax Cleaners-Dyers, 74 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 628, 460 A.2d 1219 (1983). In that case, the claimant applied for total benefits under the Pennsylvania Occupational ...


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