Appeal from the Order of the Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board in the case of Diane McCoy, w/o Lawrence McCoy, III v. McCoy Catering Services, Inc., No. A-84813.
John P. Koopman, with him, S. Richard Klinges, III, Begley, Carlin & Mandio, for petitioner.
Susan McLaughlin, with her, David L. Pennington, Harvey, Pennington, Herting & Renneisen, Ltd., for respondents, McCoy Catering Services, Inc.
President Judge Crumlish, Jr., and Judges Rogers, Craig, MacPhail, Doyle, Colins and Palladino. Opinion by Judge Palladino. Judge Rogers dissents. Concurring and Dissenting Opinion by President Judge Crumlish, Jr.
[ 102 Pa. Commw. Page 437]
Diane McCoy appeals from an order of the Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board which upheld a referee's decision denying Petitioner's fatal claim petition for her husband's suicide under Section 301(a) of The Pennsylvania Workmen's Compensation Act.*fn1 We affirm.
[ 102 Pa. Commw. Page 438]
McCoy's husband died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound on December 9, 1979. He left a note telling his wife not to go into the garage but to call the police from her mother's home. Prior to his suicide, the husband saw a Board-certified psychotherapist, who later testified that stress from the severe financial difficulties of the family catering and food service business caused him to commit suicide. A Board-certified psychiatrist testified that, in his opinion, the husband did not commit suicide while he was psychotic or in a frenzy but instead elected, planned and executed it in such a way that he was fully aware of the consequences of his actions.
McCoy contends that the Board erred as a matter of law in concluding that McCoy's suicide was intentional. She urges that the referee, and the Board, should have applied the "chain-of-causation" test, as adopted by the majority of jurisdictions, rather than the "Sponatski rule" which, she asserts, would lead to finding that her husband's suicide is compensable. We agree that the "chain-of-causation" test should be adopted to determine if a suicide is compensable under Section 301(a) of the Act. However, when that test is applied to the facts of this case, benefits must be denied.
The referee found that McCoy's husband was aware of the consequences of his actions and concluded that McCoy failed to meet her burden of proving that her husband killed himself while "possessed of an uncontrollable, insane impulse or while in a delirium or frenzy." The test articulated by the referee was the "Sponatski rule," which was adopted by the Superior Court in Blasczak v. Crown Cork & Seal Co., 193 Pa. Superior Ct. 422, 165 A.2d 128 (1960). However, this Court has held that the rule should not be read too literally. Commonwealth v. Makar, 53 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 83, 416 A.2d 1155 (1980). Rather than requiring
[ 102 Pa. Commw. Page 439]
proof that a decedent was raving or raging against someone or something before he committed suicide, the rule has been interpreted by this Court as providing that where a suicide is admitted, a claimant must show that the decedent took his life during an episode for which the decedent was not legally responsible. Id. We consider the Makar interpretation to have been a substantial step forward embracing the so-called chain-of-causation test.
The chain of causation test is set forth in Kahle v. Plochman, Inc., 85 N.J. 539, 428 A.2d 913 (1981) and requires that:
[A]n employee's death by suicide is compensable where the original work-connected injuries result in the employee's becoming dominated by a disturbance of mind directly caused by his or her injury and its consequences, such as extreme pain and despair, of such severity as to overide [sic] normal rational judgment.
Id. at 547, 428 A.2d at 917. The test allows compensation if a suicide is caused by pain, depression or despair, resulting from a work-connected injury, so ...