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DENNIS L. LANDIS v. WORKMEN'S COMPENSATION APPEAL BOARD (HERSHEY EQUIPMENT CO.). APPEAL HERSHEY EQUIPMENT COMPANY (06/08/87)

decided: June 8, 1987.

DENNIS L. LANDIS
v.
WORKMEN'S COMPENSATION APPEAL BOARD (HERSHEY EQUIPMENT CO.). APPEAL OF HERSHEY EQUIPMENT COMPANY



Appeal from the Order of the Commonwealth Court entered August 20, 1985 at No. 2034 C.D. 1984, reversing the Order of the Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board entered at No. 85276. Nix, C.j., and Larsen, Flaherty, McDermott, Hutchinson, Zappala and Papadakos, JJ. Hutchinson and Papadakos, JJ., file dissenting opinions.

Author: Mcdermott

[ 515 Pa. Page 42]

OPINION

Dennis Landis worked for Hershey Equipment Company for over three years. His job was to install and service poultry equipment in chicken houses, tasks which often placed him in enclosures abounding with chicken excrement. While so employed, Landis began to experience peculiar visual problems manifested by a distortion and loss of central vision in his right eye.

An ophthalmologist informed Landis that his sight was affected by a condition associated with his work environment. The specific diagnosis was "presumed ocular histoplasmosis," a rare disease the etiology of which is not clearly understood. Landis' ophthalmologist explained the working hypothesis of how the disease progresses as follows. There is a fungus called histoplasma which exists in

[ 515 Pa. Page 43]

    soil and flourishes in accumulations of fowl excrement. The spores of this fungus become airborne and are inhaled by humans. In a small number of those persons so invaded, the presence of the histoplasma triggers an "allergic" reaction in the host's eyes characterized by inflammation of the macular area, that part of the eye enabling clear central vision. This enhanced reaction to the histoplasma organism is designated "presumed ocular histoplasmosis." The doctor explained that the adjective "presumed" is used "because the organism which causes the reaction has never been found in the ocular tissue in patients that have had all the clinical findings of the syndrome;" and that the designation "presumed ocular histoplasmosis" is "the working hypothesis that this is the type of allergic reaction in the eye to the presence of the organism elsewhere in the body."

In the case of Mr. Landis the inflammation was accompanied by hemorrhaging and subsequent scarring that affected the central vision in his right eye. Though he could still perform his duties, Landis feared further damage to his eyesight and prudently chose to abandon his employ with Hershey Equipment. Unfortunately, this change came too late to prevent the permanent loss of central vision in his right eye. This loss prompted Landis to file a claim for benefits under the Workmen's Compensation Act.*fn1

The referee who initially heard Landis' claim determined that a showing of an occupational disease within section 108(n) of the Act*fn2 had not been made and denied the claim. Landis appealed to the Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board, which affirmed the referee's decision with the added

[ 515 Pa. Page 44]

    rationale that the claimant's medical expert had given equivocal testimony.

On appeal the Commonwealth Court reversed the Board's conclusion that the medical testimony was equivocal and further ruled that Landis had made an adequate showing to satisfy section 108(n). In support of that decision the court analyzed the testimony of Dr. Paul Nase, the claimant's ophthalmologist, and determined that it was sufficient as to the three required proofs of section 108(n), i.e., that Landis was exposed to presumed ocular histoplasmosis by reason of his employment with Hershey Equipment; that this disease was causally related to that employment; and that the incidence of this disease is substantially greater in the claimant's occupation at chicken houses than in the general population. Landis v. Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board (Hershey Equipment Corp.), 91 Pa. Commw. 238, 496 A.2d 1324 (1985).

Upon petition we granted allowance of appeal.

Appellant's principal argument is that the Commonwealth Court erred in concluding that appellee had successfully carried his burden of proving that "presumed ocular histoplasmosis" was "substantially greater in his industry" than in the general ...


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