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BOEING VERTOL COMPANY AND AETNA LIFE & CASUALTY COMPANY v. WORKMEN'S COMPENSATION APPEAL BOARD (COLES) (07/15/87)

decided: July 15, 1987.

BOEING VERTOL COMPANY AND AETNA LIFE & CASUALTY COMPANY, PETITIONERS
v.
WORKMEN'S COMPENSATION APPEAL BOARD (COLES), RESPONDENTS



Appeal from the Order of the Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board in case of Donald E. Coles v. Boeing Vertol Company, No. A-87163.

COUNSEL

Peter J. Weber, with him, H. Coleman Switkay, Marc S. Raspanti, Rawle & Henderson, for petitioner.

John J. McAuliffe, Jr., for respondent, Donald Coles.

President Judge Crumlish, Jr., Judges Craig, MacPhail, Doyle, Barry, Colins, and Palladino. Opinion by Judge Craig. Concurring Opinion by Judge Doyle. Concurring Opinion by Judge Palladino.

Author: Craig

[ 107 Pa. Commw. Page 389]

Boeing Vertol Company, as employer, has appealed the Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board's affirmance of a referee's decision granting total disability benefits to claimant Donald Coles, employed as an engineering writer of technical manuals. The referee found that stressful employment situations and events caused the claimant to suffer a compensable injury in the nature of an aggravation of pre-existing cardiovascular disease.

[ 107 Pa. Commw. Page 390]

The employer's primary contention is that the claimant's subjective reaction to normal work conditions was the sole cause of the cardiac injury, and that it therefore should be deemed to be non-compensable. Secondarily, the employer contends that the referee should not have included the cost of medical data copies and referee's hearing transcripts as part of the costs and fees awarded to the claimant.

The Causation Issue

This court has recognized that worker compensation cases involving mental or psychological elements fall into three categories:

1. Psychological stimulus causing physical injury;

2. Physical stimulus causing psychic injury; and

3. Psychological stimulus causing psychic injury.

Note, Jones, Gray Areas and Gray Matter: Compensable Psychic Injury under Pennsylvania Workmen's Compensation Law, 91 Dick. L. Rev. 583 (1986). This court has struggled particularly with the third category, involving mental and nervous disabilities resulting from work-related stress. See Bell Telephone Co. of Pennsylvania v. Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board (DeMay), 87 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 558, 487 A.2d 1053 (1985). Recognizing that medicine is not an exact science and confronted with the difficulty of identifying the linkage between intangible stress elements on the job and the similarly intangible nature of psychic injury, this court has been concerned about the adequacy of proof in such cases. "Due to the highly subjective nature of psychiatric injuries, the occurrence of the injury and its cause must be adequately pinpointed." Thomas v. Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board, 55 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 449, 455,

[ 107 Pa. Commw. Page 391423]

A.2d 784, 787 (1980). In that case, where this court disallowed benefits to a claimant whose mental disability stemmed from his fear that a job site explosion might recur, we held that "evidence of an employee's subjective reaction to being at work and being exposed to normal working conditions is . . . [not a compensable] injury under the act." 55 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. at 456, 423 A.2d at 788.

However, this case clearly does not fall into that third category, the mental-mental cases. This case involves physical cardiovascular injury found to have been caused by psychological stress at the job, a classic example of the first category ...


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