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SCM CORPORATION v. WORKMEN'S COMPENSATION APPEAL BOARD (SHULLMAN) (12/19/86)

COMMONWEALTH COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA


decided: December 19, 1986.

SCM CORPORATION, PETITIONER
v.
WORKMEN'S COMPENSATION APPEAL BOARD (SHULLMAN), RESPONDENTS

Appeal from the Order of the Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board, in case of Louis Shullman, Deceased, Kathleen Shullman, Widow v. SCM Corporation, No. A-88580.

COUNSEL

Robert G. Rose, Spence, Custer, Saylor, Wolfe and Rose, for petitioner.

W. Louis Coppersmith, Margolis & Coppersmith, for respondent, Louis Shullman, Deceased, Kathleen Shullman, Widow.

President Judge Crumlish, Jr., Judge Doyle, and Senior Judge Kalish, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by President Judge Crumlish, Jr.

Author: Crumlish

[ 102 Pa. Commw. Page 537]

SCM Corporation (SCM) appeals a Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board (Board) order upholding a referee's decision granting the fatal claim petition of Kathleen Shullman, widow of Louis Shullman. Section 301(a) of The Pennsylvania Workmen's Compensation Act (Act).*fn1 We affirm.

[ 102 Pa. Commw. Page 538]

Shullman's husband, a technician, worked in SCM's magnetic materials lab for five years. In September 1982 he was transferred to the production department as a clerk in charge of inventory. Two months later, Mr. Shullman died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound just prior to leaving for work.*fn2

The referee found*fn3 that the decedent's change in job caused him to become depressed and suffer a serious change in personality.*fn4 The referee found further that at the time of Mr. Shullman's death, he was suffering from a specific major depression -- a "single episode" -- culminating in the tragic outcome of his death.*fn5 The Board concluded from the record that there was "substantial competent and unequivocal medical evidence to show that [decedent's] mental illness and resulting suicide were the result of his employment."*fn6

[ 102 Pa. Commw. Page 539]

SCM contends that Section 301(a) bars compensation for intentional self-inflicted injuries such as decedent's. It argues that Shullman failed to meet her burden of proof under the prevailing "Sponatski test," which requires the decedent to have acted without conscious volition, possessing an uncontrollable insane impulse or while in a delirium or frenzy.*fn7

This Court has previously held that suicide may be compensable under the Act provided that the suicide is a direct result of a work-related mental illness. Allegheny Ludlum Steel Corp. v. Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board (Fisher), 91 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 480, 498 A.2d 3 (1985). In order to be work-related, the mental injury must stem from the decedent having functioned as an employee, not from outside circumstances. Klein v. Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board (Plaza Home Center, Inc.), 91 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 247, 496 A.2d 1346 (1985).

In McCoy v. Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board (McCoy Catering Services, Inc.), 102 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 436, 518 A.2d 883 (1986), we recently held that a "chain-of-causation" test is to be applied to suicide cases under Section 301(a) of the Act. This test allows compensation if a suicide is caused by pain, depression or despair resulting from a work-related injury so severe as to override rational judgment.*fn8

[ 102 Pa. Commw. Page 540]

To be entitled to receive compensation under this test, a claimant must prove that (1) there was initially a work-related injury as defined by Section 301 of the Act, (2) the injury directly caused the employee to become dominated by a disturbance of the mind so severe as to override normal rational judgment, and (3) the disturbance resulted in the employee's suicide.

Having examined the record, we hold that Shullman has met her burden of proof under the McCoy test. She presented competent medical evidence which showed that job pressure caused her husband to become severely depressed and created a mental state of despair.*fn9 Dr. John F. Michaels, a Board-certified clinical psychiatrist, testified that decedent's "suicide was a direct result of the mental state of helplessness and hopelessness which were cardinal features of the depression; and that the depression was directly and causally linked to the stress of work at the place of employment at the time of the deceased's death."*fn10

In addition, Dr. Robert L. Sadoff, SCM's Board-certified forensic psychiatrist, testified on cross-examination that an event unconnected to decedent's internal mental state could trigger a serious mental illness and that his job transfer appears to have been that extrinsic factor.*fn11

We hold, therefore, that the Board properly awarded fatal claim benefits.

Accordingly, we affirm the order of the Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board.

[ 102 Pa. Commw. Page 541]

Order

The Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board order, Docket No. A-88580, dated August 17, 1985, is affirmed.

Disposition

Affirmed.


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