Case name: Gerges v. Dan Lepore & Sons Co., 28 PAWCLR 127 (Pa. W.C.A.B. 2013).
Ruling: The Pennsylvania Workers' Compensation Appeal Board affirmed the workers' compensation judge's decision granting a widow's fatal claim petition, finding that a mechanic's death by asphyxiation was work-related.
What it means: In Pennsylvania, when an employer alleges that a worker's death resulted from suicide, the employer must show that the fatal injury was self-inflicted.
In affirming the grant of a widow's fatal claim petition, the board found the WCJ did not err in finding that a mechanic's death was work-related. The mechanic died of positional asphyxia. He was found dead by his coworkers during regular business hours with his head and neck trapped in an extension ladder owned by the employer. His supervisor said that when he last saw the mechanic he was going to fix a rotor-tiller, which was one of his job duties.
Nothing in the record suggested that he had departed from his work tasks at any point thereafter. The board found that supervisor's testimony supported the WCJ's conclusion that the mechanic was in the course of his employment when he was fatally injured less than an hour after the supervisor last saw him.
The WCJ also did not err in finding that the mechanic's death was accidental rather than a suicide. The coroner who issued the mechanic's death certificate and a forensic engineering consultant provided credible testimony that the death was accidental. Also, several other witnesses testified that the mechanic did not seem depressed or suicidal on the day he died. None of the contrary evidence was so clear, positive, credible, or uncontradicted so as to justify setting aside the WCJ's findings and conclusions on this issue. Therefore, the WCJ did not err in granting the fatal claim petition.
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October 21, 2013
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