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MARIE L. SEYBOLD v. COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA (12/15/86)

decided: December 15, 1986.

MARIE L. SEYBOLD, PETITIONER
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, DEPARTMENT OF GENERAL SERVICES, RESPONDENT



Appeal from the Order of the Department of General Services, in case of In Re: Charles H. Seybold, deceased, Marie L. Seybold, Claimant, Claim for Death Benefits, Act 101 of 1976, as amended, dated January 4, 1985.

COUNSEL

Ronald P. Koerner, Gatz, Cohen, Segal & Koerner, for petitioner.

David A. Fitzsimons, Assistant Counsel, with him, Thomas M. Devlin, Assistant Counsel, and Anthony P. Krzywicki, Chief Counsel, for respondent.

Judges Craig and Doyle, and Senior Judge Blatt, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Doyle.

Author: Doyle

[ 107 Pa. Commw. Page 350]

Marie L. Seybold (Petitioner) has petitioned for review of an order of the Department of General Services (Department) affirming the decision of the Bureau of Risks and Insurance Management denying the Petitioner's claim for a $25,000 death benefit under Section 1 of the Act of June 26, 1976 (Act), P.L. 424, as amended, 53 P.S. § 891. The Petitioner is the widow of Charles H. Seybold, a former fireman in the City of Pittsburgh.

This matter is now before our Court for the second time, see Seybold v. Department of General Services, 75 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 118, 461 A.2d 353 (1983), even though the facts are relatively uncomplicated. On February 1, 1976, Mr. Seybold was on duty when an alarm was sounded. He donned boots, heavy protective clothing and a helmet. He drove a pumper truck one mile to the Carlton House where the alarm had been triggered. Mr. Seybold then carried approximately 47 pounds of equipment to the elevator. He rode up to the 9th floor and proceeded at a "fast walk" up the stairs to the 10th floor carrying the equipment. There was then some smoke on the 10th floor, described by one witness as "cooking smoke." He remained in the hall on the 10th floor for approximately 10 minutes and then left because the situation was under control. Mr. Seybold returned to the fire station where, within approximately one-half hour, he suffered a heart attack and died.

The Petitioner filed a claim for death benefits pursuant to Section 1 of the Act, which provides that in the event a firefighter is killed in the performance of his duties, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania shall pay to the surviving spouse the sum of $25,000. A hearing was

[ 107 Pa. Commw. Page 351]

    held on May 14, 1980. Mr. Seybold's superior, Capt. Richard G. Bilby, the only witness called concerning the circumstances at the scene of the fire, testified that the smoke in the hall on the 10th floor was "cooking smoke", and that the decedent "would . . . have inhaled smoke . . ." during a period of approximately ten minutes. Conflicting medical testimony was also received. The Petitioner's witness, Dr. Joshua A. Perper, who performed an autopsy on the decedent, testified by deposition that the decedent's activities in connection with the alarm on February 1, 1976, with the physical and mental stress involved, coupled with decedent's cardiovascular condition, triggered and caused the decedent's fatal heart attack. The Department's witness, Dr. George R. Moffitt, a cardiologist, opined that the decedent's death was the result of a "slowly progressive disease process that had built up to a climax resulting in cardiac death." He also stated that "If there is enough smoke in a combustive atmosphere and there are large amounts of carbon monoxide, then there is no question that this could be a cause of death."

The hearing examiner wrote that he found Dr. Moffitt's opinion "more probative on the relationship that the events Mr. Seybold experienced at the Carlton House had on his death . . ." and denied the claim, concluding that the decedent was not "killed" as that term was defined in 4 Pa. Code § 89.1.*fn1

[ 107 Pa. Commw. Page 352]

On Petitioner's first appeal to this Court we held that the Act providing death benefits for firefighters must be construed liberally in order to effectuate its beneficent purposes and that the restrictive definition of "killed" in 4 Pa. Code § 89.1 unreasonably imposed limitations on the eligibility language of the Act and should not be applied. We reversed the decision of the ...


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