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12/07/77 ALBERT S. ANDERSON'S (DEPENDENT'S) CASE

December 7, 1977

ALBERT S. ANDERSON'S (DEPENDENT'S) CASE


Worcester. Certification to the Superior Court of a decision by the Industrial Accident Board. The case was heard by Lappin, J. After review was sought in the Appeals Court, the Supreme Judicial Court, on its own initiative, ordered direct appellate review.

Hennessey, C.j., Quirico, Kaplan, Liacos, & Abrams, JJ.

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

Workmen's Compensation Act, Findings by Industrial Accident Board, Prima facie evidence. Evidence, Presumptions and burden of proof. Proximate Cause. Words, "Prima facie evidence."

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hennessey

Where an employee is found dead at his place of employment, G. L. c. 152, § 7A, established prima facie evidence of a causal relationship between the employment and the fatality. [817]

Where it was unclear whether the Industrial Accident Board applied the prima facie effect of G. L. c. 152, § 7A, in its decision to deny a claim for dependency compensation, the case was remanded to the board for further proceedings. [817-818]

In this case we are called upon to construe the meaning of G. L. c. 152, § 7A, and to determine whether that statute was correctly applied by the reviewing board (board) of the Industrial Accident Board. We conclude that, since the findings and decision of the board leave it conjectural whether it correctly applied the statute, the case must be remanded to the board for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

The plaintiff, widow of Albert S. Anderson (employee), filed a claim for compensation under G. L. c. 152, § 31. After hearing, a single member of the Industrial Accident Board ordered the insurer to pay the claimant-widow weekly dependency compensation in accordance with § 31 from March 28, 1972, to date and continuing at the rate of $45 a week. There were further orders for payments under other sections of c. 152.

The insurer claimed a review by the board. The matter was tried without witnesses, and the parties filed a statement of agreed facts. It was agreed that on March 28, 1972, the employee, then age forty-nine, reported for work between 7 and 7:15 A.M. to perform his regular duties. As he was office manager, those duties were, in general, supervisory and clerical, and involved only occasional physical exertion, although his work week almost always considerably exceeded forty hours. It is unknown what the employee did from the time of his arrival, but at 7:30 A.M. he was found by fellow employees at his desk, choking and semi-conscious. He kept breathing but never spoke. A police ambulance arrived and removed him to Worcester City Hospital where he was pronounced dead on arrival. A copy of the death certificate is attached to the record and was incorporated therein by reference.

By agreement, a report of John P. Rattigan, M.D., was submitted. He gave as his opinion, based upon the available medical data, that the employee's sudden collapse and subsequent death on March 28, 1972, occurred in the natural progression of coronary artery disease, and was not causally related to his employment. Dr. Rattigan regarded it as particularly significant that the employee died shortly after he arrived at work before he had engaged in any of his routine activities; and further, Dr. Rattigan gave as his opinion that the employee's general activities on the day of death were so completely void of suggestion of emotional stress that it was not possible causally to relate his collapse and death to work.

The board reversed the decision of the single member, and denied and dismissed the widow's claim. In its "Findings and Decision," after a statement of the agreed facts, the board stated: "Based upon the foregoing facts and the medical opinion of John P. Rattigan, M.D., whose opinion the Reviewing Board adopt, the Reviewing Board find that the deceased employee was found choking and semiconscious at his place of employment; that his duties were supervisory and clerical; that there was no direct or inferential evidence of emotional or physical stress on the day of his death or involving his duties. Accordingly, the Reviewing Board find and rule that there is prima facie evidence that the employee was performing his regular duties on the day of his death but that the claimant-widow has failed to establish by a fair preponderance of the affirmative evidence that the deceased employee sustained a personal injury arising out of and in the course of his employment, and that his death was causally related to a personal injury arising out of and in the course of his employment. The Reviewing Board further find the claim does not come within the provisions of Chapter 152. The widow's claim for dependency compensation is hereby denied and dismissed." A Judge of the Superior Court affirmed the decision.

General Laws c. 152, § 7A, as appearing in St. 1971, c. 702, reads as follows, in its entirety: "In any claim for compensation where the employee has been killed, or found dead at his place of employment or is physically or mentally unable to testify, it shall be prima facie evidence that the employee was performing his regular duties on the day of injury or fatality or death or disability and that the claim comes within the provisions of this chapter, that sufficient notice of the injury has been given, and that the injury or death or disability was not occasioned by the wilful intention of the employee to injure or kill himself or another."

The plaintiff argues that § 7A should be construed as establishing, inter alia, prima facie evidence that the employee's death was causally related to his duties as an employee. She also argues that, given that construction of the statute, the board's findings and decision do not demonstrate that the board correctly applied the statute to this case.

The plaintiff does not argue that the evidence did not support the board's denial of her claim. In this she is correct; the opinions expressed by Dr. Rattigan clearly warranted the board in concluding that ...


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