Appeal from the Order of the Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board in the case of Jack E. Tipton, Deceased, Alice H. Tipton, Widow v. Rockwood Area School District, No. A-85544.
John J. Bagnato, with him, Robert G. Rose, Spence, Custer, Saylor, Wolfe & Rose, for petitioners.
Samuel D. Clapper, with him, Nathaniel A. Barbera, Barbera and Barbera, for respondent, Alice H. Tipton, Widow of Jack E. Tipton, deceased.
Judges MacPhail, Doyle and Barry, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Barry.
[ 98 Pa. Commw. Page 311]
This appeal results from an order of the Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board (Board) which affirmed a referee's decision awarding benefits to the claimant, Alice H. Tipton, on her fatal claim petition. The respondent, Rockwood Area School District (Employer), has pursued this petition for review.
The claimant's petition had previously been denied on three occasions, and this case possesses a coextensively lengthy procedural history. The claimant's deceased, Jack E. Tipton, died on May 31, 1973 after suffering a fatal heart attack while at work. The deceased was employed as Superintendent of Schools of the school district, and on the day of his death was directly responsible for the dismissal of classes at the district high school, the principal of the school being absent on that date. Following the dismissal and his lunch period, the decedent collapsed over his desk and died later the same day. A fatal claim petition filed thereafter was contested by the employer.
Testimony adduced in the course of ensuing hearings revealed that the deceased had on three occasions within the prior year been hospitalized for his heart condition; that conflicts with a certain member of the school board caused the deceased emotional stress; and that, according to his secretary, on the day of his fatal heart attack the decedent "was very concerned about [the high school] students" driving their cars home. Based upon a hypothetical question embracing the foregoing scenario, the claimant's expert testified that "with reasonable certainty, [one] could say that the stress of [the deceased's] work was a precipitating factor in triggering his fatal heart attack. Jacobs Deposition at 97. Conflicting testimony, however, was submitted to the effect that on the day of his death the deceased "appeared to be in good health and gave no indication
[ 98 Pa. Commw. Page 312]
that he was not feeling well." In addition, the employer's medical expert, faced with precisely the same hypothetical, and recognizing that due to other numerous ailments the deceased was at high risk of coronary death, denied that it was "professionally possible . . . to give an opinion as to the role played by employment" in the deceased's death. See Lantos Deposition at 22-23.
The latter testimony was believed by the referee, who denied the petition and made the following pivotal findings of fact:
25. At the time of his death, the decedent was not suffering from emotional distress.
26. The decedent's death was not the direct result of his employment and was not related thereto by reason of any emotional distress connected with said employment but was in fact the result of the natural ...