Appeal from the Order of the Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board in the case of Ralph J. Harbison, Deceased, Elaine W. Harbison, Widow v. Reuben H. Donnelley, No. A-84285.
Alan H. Perer, with him, Michael F. Pillow, Swenson & Perer, for petitioner.
Michael D. Sherman, with him, Roy F. Walters, Jr., and Joseph F. Grochmal, Fried, Kane, Walters & Zuschlag, for respondent, Reuben H. Donnelley Corporation.
Judges Doyle and Colins, and Senior Judge Barbieri, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Colins.
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This is an appeal by Elaine W. Harbison (claimant), the widow of Ralph J. Harbison (decedent), from a decision of the Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board (Board) which affirmed a referee's denial of benefits to claimant under her fatal claim petition.
Decedent was employed by Reuben H. Donnelley, Company (employer), a distributor of telephone directories. His job required him to unload bundles of telephone directories from trailers in a parking lot to persons or vehicles on the ground for delivery. On December 3, 1979, decedent collapsed, breathing heavily, while in the process of unloading these directories. He was taken to St. Margaret Memorial Hospital (St. Margaret's) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where he was pronounced dead on arrival.
The referee found that decedent had a very severe atherosclerotic heart condition and that he had sustained a heart attack while in the course of his employment. However, the referee denied benefits because he concluded that decedent's heart disease and subsequent death were not work related. The Board affirmed the referee's decision. This appeal followed.
In heart attack cases, where the causal connection between work and injury is not an obvious one, the claimant bears the burden of establishing that link through unequivocal medical testimony. Martino v. Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board (Signal Delivery Service), 87 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 154, 486 A.2d 1038 (1985). Therefore, the proper standard should be whether, based upon a thorough review of the entire record, the medical testimony, taken as a
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whole, was sufficiently unequivocal to support a finding for the claimant. Haney v. Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board, 65 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 461, 442 A.2d 1223 (1982).
Our scope of review where, as here, the party with the burden of proof did not prevail below 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. Gladys Supply Company v. Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board and Boyer, 31 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 64, 375 A.2d 401 (1977).
At the hearing before the referee, claimant introduced the testimony of Dr. Reidbord, Director of the Department of Pathology at St. Margaret's and Board certified in forensic pathology. Dr. Reidbord had performed the autopsy on decedent. He stated that: "[I]t is my opinion, expressed with a reasonable degree of medical certainty, that death was due to a cardiac arythmia [sic] secondary to atherosclerosis of the coronary arteries and that this arythmia [sic] was caused by or precipitated by the strenuous labor in which . . . [decedent] was engaged at the time of the final event."
Dr. Julian P. Levinson, Board certified in internal medicine and cardiovascular diseases testified for employer. Dr. Levinson's testimony, in pertinent part, was as follows:
Q. Doctor, do you have an opinion as to why . . . [decedent] died on December 3, 1979?
A. Yes, I think he had sudden cardiac failure.
Q. Doctor, what is sudden cardiac failure?
A. It's a sudden inability of the heart to ...