Heinzl v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corporation

Decision Date19 July 1945
Citation157 Pa.Super. 454,43 A.2d 635
PartiesHeinzl v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corporation, Appellant
CourtPennsylvania Superior Court

Argued April 11, 1945.

Appeal, No. 143, April T., 1945, from judgment of County Court, Allegheny Co., 1944, No. A-203, in case of Anna Heinzl v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corporation.

Appeal by defendant from award of Workmen's Compensation Board.

Appeal sustained and judgment entered for claimant, before McKim Harkins and Gunther, JJ., opinion by Gunther, J. Defendant appealed.

William A. Challener, Jr., with him William A Challener and Challener & Challener, for appellant.

John E. Evans, Jr., with him Evans, Evans &amp Spinelli, for appellee.

Baldrige P. J., Rhodes, Hirt, Reno, Dithrich, Ross and Arnold, JJ.

OPINION

ROSS, J.

This is a workmen's compensation case in which the referee made an award in favor of the plaintiff, the widow of Frank Heinzl. The award was sustained by the Compensation Board and by the County Court of Allegheny County.

Frank Heinzl was at the time of his death on May 23, 1942, in the employ of the defendant and had been for more than a year prior thereto. On May 12, 1942, in the course of his employment, Heinzl, while descending a ladder, slipped and fell backwards onto a metal floor, landing upon his elbows and buttocks. He resumed work but three quarters of an hour after the fall he complained of headache and dizziness and was sent to the South Side Hospital for examination and diagnosis. The diagnosis showed that he was suffering from sprain of the muscles of the back of the neck accompanied by vomiting, vertigo and headache. The day following Heinzl was released from the hospital with the diagnosis that the sprained neck muscles were cured but the headaches were not improved. He returned to work on May 16 and worked until his death on May 23. On the latter date he was found unconscious on the floor of the mill near a machine, taken to the hospital and died about an hour later, the final diagnosis being "Rupture aneurysm artery at base of brain (carotid)."

The deceased, prior to May 12, had a preexisting congenital aneurysm of his carotid artery but aside from that was in good health, was a regular worker and had never been known to complain of poor health. The basic question before the referee was whether the aneurysm ruptured spontaneously as a result of its progressive inevitable growth or whether it ruptured as a result of the accident on May 12. The referee, affirmed by the board, found that it ruptured as a result of the accident. Compensation was awarded.

The burden was on the claimant to prove that the accident materially contributed to the death of her husband rather than that his death resulted from the natural progress and development of the preexisting aneurysm. Bittner v. Saltlick Township, 109 Pa.Super. 406, 411, 167 A. 483; Byars v. Howard Cleaners, Inc. et al., 140 Pa.Super. 188, 190, 13 A.2d 883; Euker v. Welsbach Street Lighting Company, 149 Pa.Super. 78, 25 A.2d 758. The compensation authorities held that she had met that burden, and we agree.

The fact that the deceased had a congenital weakness which made him more susceptible to an injury than another person will not defeat the right to compensation. On the contrary, if the preexisting ailment was aggravated and his death accelerated by the injury, then under the law claimant was entitled to compensation. Lafferty v. Carbo-Oxygen Co. et al., 122 Pa.Super. 425, 185 A. 883; Roland v. Frantz et al., 134 Pa.Super. 24, 3 A.2d 279.

It is the duty of this court to examine the record to determine whether the findings of fact made by the referee and the board are supported by legally competent evidence, and whether on such findings the law has been properly applied. Smith v. Welsh Bros., 102 Pa.Super. 54, 156 A. 598; Watkins v. Pittsburgh Coal Company, 278 Pa. 463, 123 A. 461; Melini v. Saltsburg Coal Mining Company et al., 119 Pa.Super. 356, 181 A. 330, and not to weigh the evidence to determine its probative value. Bradley v. Pioneer Oil Company, 109 Pa.Super. 585, 167 A. 660. The findings of the referee and the board have the effect of a verdict of a jury, and we must review the evidence and the inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the claimant. Melini v. Saltsburg Coal Mining Company et al., supra.

To establish the connection between the accident and the death the claimant called Dr. Paul R. Sieber, whose opinion was expressed after examining the hospital records, the history of the case and the autopsy report. Dr. Sieber's testimony in part follows: "Q. Taking the history, Doctor, and the symptoms the man exhibited, and the nature of his fall, will you tell us what the mechanism would be; what the effect would be upon the head and...

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