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BETHLEHEM MINES CORPORATION v. WORKMEN'S COMPENSATION APPEAL BOARD (PLUTCH) (05/20/86)

decided: May 20, 1986.

BETHLEHEM MINES CORPORATION, PETITIONER
v.
WORKMEN'S COMPENSATION APPEAL BOARD (PLUTCH), RESPONDENTS



Appeal from the Order of the Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board in the case of Alice Plutch w/o Floyd, and Shirley J. Ratica, Guardian of Darla and Peter Plutch v. Bethlehem Mines Corp., No. A-85131.

COUNSEL

William F. Henkel, Ceisler/Richman Law Firm, for petitioner.

M. E. Kusturiss, with him, Steven R. Wolf, for respondents.

Judges Colins and Palladino, and Senior Judge Kalish, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Colins.

Author: Colins

[ 97 Pa. Commw. Page 348]

Bethlehem Mines Corporation (petitioner) appeals from a decision of the Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board (Board) which affirmed the referee's decision awarding Alice Plutch (claimant), the widow of Floyd Plutch (decedent), death benefits pursuant to Section 301(c)(1) of The Pennsylvania Workmen's Compensation Act (Act).*fn1

Decedent was employed by petitioner as an underground coal mining "snapper" on a railroad line moving coal in and out of the mine. On March 23, 1981, decedent suffered chest pains while walking up a grade in the mine just after throwing a track switch and setting three or four brakes by pushing brake levers. He was taken to the hospital and died subsequently some days thereafter on March 27, 1981.

Testimony by the treating physician, Dr. Coppula, indicated that decedent had suffered a myocardial infarction (heart attack) while working on March 23, 1981, and died as a result of resultant complications. Dr. Coppula further testified that decedent's work duties were the precipitating cause of the myocardial infarction. This testimony read in light of the medical evidence as a whole was relied upon by the referee in awarding death benefits.

On appeal, petitioner contends that the testimony of Dr. Coppula meets neither the causation standard nor the medical certainty standard required of medical testimony in a heart attack case. Because we disagree, we will affirm the Board's decision.

[ 97 Pa. Commw. Page 349]

In order for a heart attack to be considered a compensable injury under the Act, a claimant must show a causal connection between his work and the attack. Lamoreaux v. Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board Page 349} (Celotex Corporation and Standard Fire Insurance Company), 92 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 1, 3, 497 A.2d 1388, 1390 (1985). When this causal connection is not obvious, it is the burden of decedent's claimant to establish it by the presentation of unequivocal medical testimony. Id. Where as here the claimant has sustained her burden of proof before the referee and the Board, our scope of review is limited to determining whether an error of law was committed or necessary findings of fact were unsupported by substantial evidence. Cisco v. Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board (A & P Tea Company), 88 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 174, 176, n.2, 488 A.2d 1194, 1195, n.2 (1985).

We turn to petitioner's arguments that the expert medical testimony of Dr. Coppula failed to prove the required link between employment and heart attack in terms of causation and unequivocality. Under Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board v. Bernard S. Pincus Co., 479 Pa. 286, 388 A.2d 659 (1978), the causation requirement in such death and disability claims is to show that the heart attack occurred within the course of employment and that the employment was the cause thereof. Compare Yuhas v. Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board (City of Pittsburgh), 82 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 390, 476 A.2d 1377 (1984); Krawchuck v. Philadelphia Electric Company, 497 Pa. 115, 439 A.2d 627 (1981).*fn2

Our review of the record and medical testimony as a whole reveals substantial evidence supporting the referee's and Board's conclusions that the heart attack was caused by work duties and, therefore, was work-related. We turn, ...


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