PETITION FOR REVIEW (WORKMEN'S COMPENSATION).
William J. Schaaf, James R. Fryling, Marsh, Spaeder, Baur, Spaeder & Schaaf, Erie, for petitioner.
Joseph J. May, Plate, Shapira, Hutzelman, Berlin, May, Walsh and Brabender, Erie, for respondents.
Barry and Smith, JJ., and Narick, Senior Judge.
[ 126 Pa. Commw. Page 544]
Lois C. Michaelson (claimant), widow of Lawrence George Michaelson (decedent), appeals from an order of the Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board (Board) which affirmed the referee's decision to deny her claim for dependency benefits.
Decedent suffered from pre-existing coronary artery disease. On July 15, 1982, he was hauling gravel in a semidump truck in the course of his employment with R.R. Leininger & Son (employer). His duties entailed driving the truck to Perry Dock in Erie, waiting while others loaded the gravel onto the truck, driving the truck to a stockpile maintained in East Springfield and then dumping the gravel. Since reporting to work at 7:30 a.m., he had made two round trips. He was on his third trip when, at approximately 3:00 p.m., he suffered a cardiac arrythmia while travelling through a stretch of U.S. Route 20 near Girard, where one of two eastbound lanes was being repaired. Consequently, he caused the truck to first strike two construction barrels and then strike the guardrail. At approximately 3:35 p.m., the decedent was found by paramedics sitting upright in the seat of the truck in ventricular fibrillation. He was taken to St. Vincent Health Center in Erie where he was pronounced dead that same day.
Following the death of her husband, claimant filed a fatal claim petition under Section 301(c)(1) of The Pennsylvania Workmen's Compensation Act (Act), Act of June 2, 1915, P.L. 736, as amended, 77 P.S. § 411(1). The matter was heard by a referee who, after considering the evidence presented by both parties, concluded that the decedent's death was not caused by his employment, that his working
[ 126 Pa. Commw. Page 545]
conditions were not a substantial contributing factor in causing his death and, accordingly, claimant's petition should be denied. In doing so, he specifically found credible the testimony of the employer's medical witness. Claimant appealed the referee's decision to the Board which entered the above-mentioned order. This appeal followed.
When no obvious causal connection exists between an employee's condition and a work injury, unequivocal medical evidence must be produced to establish that connection before the claimant is entitled to workmen's compensation benefits. Fessler v. Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board (Nationwide Insurance Company), 86 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 198, 484 A.2d 422 (1984). Where the issue in a workmen's compensation case is, as it is here, whether death was a product of a work-related injury, a pre-existing pathology, or both, the claimant must establish by unequivocal medical evidence that the decedent's work activities aggravated the pre-existing condition, thereby contributing to his death. Modern Transfer v. Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board (Feiertag), 47 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 592, 408 A.2d 900 (1979).
In this case, the referee found that there was no causal relationship between the decedent's death and his work activities. He made this finding based upon his acceptance of the deposition testimony of the employer's medical witness, Dr. Edward E. Janus.*fn1 The doctor was asked on direct examination if he had an opinion, based on a reasonable degree of medical certainty, about the relationship between the decedent's death and his employment activities. He responded: "No, I do not feel that his employment presented any risks for what happened to Mr. Michaelson." Dr. Janus, further stated that it was his "opinion" that working for the employer "had no effect on [the decedent's]
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outcome" and that he did not "feel" that the decedent's work activities ...