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WILLIAM R. EVANS v. WORKMEN'S COMPENSATION APPEAL BOARD (ANCHOR HOCKING CORPORATION) (02/08/85)

COMMONWEALTH COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA


decided: February 8, 1985.

WILLIAM R. EVANS, PETITIONER
v.
WORKMEN'S COMPENSATION APPEAL BOARD (ANCHOR HOCKING CORPORATION), RESPONDENTS

Appeal from the Order of the Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board in case of William R. Evans v. Anchor Hocking Corporation, No. A-84594.

COUNSEL

Thomas P. Geer, for petitioner.

Paul T. Grater, for respondent, Anchor Hocking Corporation.

Judges Rogers, MacPhail and Palladino, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge MacPhail. This decision was reached prior to the resignation of Judge Williams, Jr.

Author: Macphail

[ 87 Pa. Commw. Page 437]

William R. Evans (Claimant) appeals to this Court from an order of the Workmen's Compensation Appeal

[ 87 Pa. Commw. Page 438]

Board (Board) which reversed the decision of the referee granting Workmen's Compensation benefits.*fn1 We affirm the Board's order.*fn2

Anchor Hocking Corporation (Employer) hired Claimant on May 13, 1974 as an industrial engineer. He was under the direct supervision of senior industrial engineer Joseph P. Brisley and general supervisor Richard Lizza. From the start of his employment, Claimant's supervisors observed that Claimant experienced difficulty completing his work. In counseling sessions routinely held by Employer for all employees, the supervisors offered their assistance to Claimant.*fn3

In April of 1975, Lizza told Claimant that he was not working up to his potential and that he was not communicating enough about his work. At no time did the supervisors threaten to fire Claimant or advise him that his job was in jeopardy. Immediately

[ 87 Pa. Commw. Page 439]

    after this conversation, Claimant experienced difficulty sleeping because he feared he might lose his job.*fn4

Nevertheless, Claimant continued in his position with Employer until April 7, 1976, when Claimant reported off from work. Claimant was subsequently hospitalized*fn5 under the care of Dr. Lebovitz, a psychiatrist. Claimant was diagnosed as in a severe agitated depression. After, treatment, including psychotropic drugs and shock therapy, Dr. Lebovitz recommended that Claimant return to work by June of 1977. Claimant worked from June 2, 1977 through July 25, 1977, when his illness recurred. Claimant reported off from work on July 26, 1977; Employer terminated his employment on August 6, 1977.

On August 10, 1977, Claimant filed a Workmen's Compensation petition, alleging that the stress of his job precipitated his "nervous condition," rendering him totally disabled as of April, 1976. After six hearings, the referee concluded that Claimant had proved he was totally disabled as a result of his "physical, mental and emotional injuries, which were work related." The Employer appealed the award of benefits to the Board, contending that the referee had committed an error of law in concluding that Claimant's disability was work related. The Board, without taking additional evidence, reversed, holding that the testimony indicated that Claimant suffered from a very poor marriage and that the referee capriciously disregarded this testimony. The Board concluded that the entire testimony clearly showed that Claimant's

[ 87 Pa. Commw. Page 440]

    disability was not work related. The instant appeal by Claimant followed.

Because the Claimant, who had the burden of proof, prevailed before the referee and the Board took no additional evidence, our scope of review is limited to a determination of whether constitutional rights were violated, an error of law was committed, or a necessary finding by the referee was unsupported by substantial evidence. Wool v. Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board (Wool's Block Works), 69 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 276, 450 A.2d 1081 (1982). "Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Thomas v. Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board (Atlantic Refining Co.), 55 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 449, 452, 423 A.2d 784 (1980).

[ 87 Pa. Commw. Page 441]

The sum of Claimant's argument is that the Board was legally bound by the referee's finding that Claimant's stress was work-related, relying upon Universal Cyclops. However, Universal Cyclops made clear that the Board (and this Court) is bound by the referee's findings only when they are supported by competent evidence. Burton v. Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board, 60 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 476, 431 A.2d 1164 (1981). In cases requiring medical testimony, competent evidence means that medical testimony which expresses unequivocality.*fn6 Roeberg Enterprise, Page 441} Inc. v. Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board, 42 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 308, 400 A.2d 911 (1979). Where psychiatric injuries are involved,*fn7 their occurrence and cause must be adequately pinpointed. Thomas (Atlantic Refining Co.), 55 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. at 455, 423 A.2d at 787. In particular, stress-related psychiatric disorders are compensable only when they are based on something other than normal working conditions.*fn8 Id.; see also Thomas v. Workmen's Compensation Page 442} Appeal Board (State Farm Insurance Co.), 78 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 274, 467 A.2d 430 (1983). In the instant case, Dr. Lebovitz testified that the "coup de grace" of Claimant's illness was what Claimant perceived to be "harassment" on the job. Dr. Lebovitz based his determination on the fact that Claimant "felt" that his job was being threatened. A review of the record, however, reveals that Claimant's fears were unfounded.

Claimant's supervisors did not tell him that his job was in jeopardy; they merely encouraged him to improve his performance. On cross-examination, Claimant himself testified that his supervisors never threatened him with the loss of his job. We have recently held that "an honest, but mistaken, perception of job harassment that aggravates a pre-existing anxiety neurosis and which results in disability, is not injury under Section 301(c) of the Act." Hirschberg, 81 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. at 583, 474 A.2d at 85. As we stated in Thomas (Atlantic Refining Company), 55 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. at 456, 423 A.2d at 788, "evidence of an employee's subjective reaction to being at work and being exposed to normal working conditions is [not] an injury under the Act." While work-related stress can be an injury under the Act, fear of losing one's job is not work-related stress for purposes of defining an injury. Dr. Lebovitz testified that the only problem with work Claimant discussed with him was his commute, a normal working condition. Therefore, we must conclude that the facts from which Dr.

[ 87 Pa. Commw. Page 443]

Lebovitz based his opinion do not provide the foundation necessary for a finding of work relatedness. Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. Dr. Lebovitz's testimony is not legally competent to support a finding of work-related stress. Consequently, there is no substantial evidence to support the referee's finding that Claimant's injury was work-related. For the reasons stated, we affirm the denial of benefits.

Order

The order of the Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board, No. A-84594, dated June 6, 1983, is affirmed.

This decision was reached prior to the resignation of Judge Williams, Jr.

Disposition

Affirmed.


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