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GLOBE SECURITY SYSTEMS CO. v. WORKMEN'S COMPENSATION APPEAL BOARD (GUERRERO) (01/29/87)

COMMONWEALTH COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA


decided: January 29, 1987.

GLOBE SECURITY SYSTEMS CO., AND NATIONAL UNION FIRE INSURANCE COMPANY, PETITIONERS
v.
WORKMEN'S COMPENSATION APPEAL BOARD (GUERRERO), RESPONDENTS

Appeal from the Order of the Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board in the case of Roberta Guerrero, w/o Jorge L. v. Globe Security Systems, Co., No. A-84931.

COUNSEL

Fred C. Trenor, Meyer, Darragh, Buckler, Bebenek & Eck, for petitioners.

Barbara Ernsberger, Behrend, Morrow, Ernsberger & Moran, for respondents.

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

Author: Crumlish

[ 103 Pa. Commw. Page 385]

Globe Security Systems Company (Globe) appeals a Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board (Board) order upholding a referee's decision granting fatal claim benefits to Roberta Guerrero, widow of Jorge Guerrero, under Section 301(a) of The Pennsylvania Workmen's Compensation Act (Act).*fn1 We affirm.

Guerrero, a security guard at a state liquor store, was attempting to guard two purported thieves when he drew his gun and accidentally shot one of the suspects in the neck.*fn2 Immediately thereafter, Guerrero shot himself in the head and died.

The referee found that shooting the alleged suspect triggered a mental disturbance (an acute psychotic episode) which caused Guerrero to take his own life.

[ 103 Pa. Commw. Page 386]

The board concluded that there was a sufficient factual basis for finding that Guerrero's suicide was not intentionally self-inflicted.*fn3 The Board also accepted the referee's finding that Roberta Guerrero and Jorge Guerrero were engaged in a common-law marriage when he died.*fn4

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). To be work-related, the mental injury must stem from the decedent's function 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 adopted a "chain of causation" test to be applied in Section 301 suicide cases. Under this test, compensation will be granted if a suicide is caused by pain, depression or despair resulting from a work-related injury so severe as to override rational judgment.*fn5

[ 103 Pa. Commw. Page 387]

Globe initially contends that the medical evidence was insufficient to support the conclusion*fn6 that Guerrero had sustained a mental injury simply because he committed suicide. We disagree.*fn7

Roberta Guerrero presented competent medical evidence*fn8 which showed that her husband had a "combatlike"*fn9 reaction to his shooting of the intruder and suffered an acute psychotic episode resulting in suicide. The referee has a duty to weigh the evidence and he may accept or reject expert medical testimony. Hoffman v. Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board (Mitchell Transport, Inc.), 87 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 44, 485 A.2d 1235 (1985). We hold that the referee's finding that Jorge Guerrero suffered a work-related injury which resulted in his suicide is supported by substantial medical evidence.

Globe also disputes the referee's finding*fn10 that there was a common-law marriage between Roberta and Jorge because their legal marriage had previously ended in divorce. The general rule for a common-law marriage is

[ 103 Pa. Commw. Page 388]

    that a nonceremonial marriage comes into existence by words in the present tense, uttered with a view and for the purpose of establishing the relation of husband and wife. Commonwealth ex rel. McDermott v. McDermott, 236 Pa. Superior Ct. 541, 345 A.2d 914 (1975). However, Fragapane v. Fragapane, 131 P.L.J. 421 (1983), elucidates the law of common-law remarriages : "[T]he law's role of mere toleration of the common law relationship should be reversed and the status of remarriage favored, even if acquired with common law informality." (Citing McDermott.) The intent of the parties to enter a common-law remarriage may be expressed in other, nonverbal ways. Fragapane.

We hold that the referee's finding that a common-law remarriage existed when Guerrero died is supported by substantial evidence.*fn11

Accordingly, we affirm the order of the Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board.*fn12

Order

The Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board order, No. A-84931 dated September 27, 1984, is affirmed.

Disposition

Affirmed.


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