• Claimant’s Medical Expert’s Testimony Regarding the Cause of the Decedent’s Death Was Not Equivocal Simply Because the Expert Offered Alternate Theories Regarding the Exact Cause of Death.
  • October 21, 2013 | Author: Francis X. Wickersham
  • Law Firm: Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin, P.C. - King Of Prussia Office
  • Manitowoc Co., Inc. and Sentry Insurance v. WCAB (Cowan); 472 C.D. 2013; filed 8/20/13; Sr. Judge Friedman

    The claimant filed a fatal claim petition, alleging that the death of his decedent was caused by injuries he sustained from a fall from a crane platform at work. The decedent and a co-worker were working, without harnesses, on an elevated crane platform with no handrails approximately six feet from the ground. While in a crouched position, the co-worker saw the decedent’s eyes roll back, and the decedent fell off the platform, striking his head on the floor. The co-worker testified that the decedent had gone limp and did not try to catch his fall. Within seconds of the fall, the decedent began turning blue and blood was coming from his mouth. The decedent soon stopped breathing, and he was transported to the hospital and placed on life support. Diagnostic tests later revealed that the decedent was brain dead, and life support was disconnected. The autopsy report stated that the cause of death was cardiac dysrhythmia due to mitral valve prolapse.

    In support of the fatal claim petition, the claimant’s medical expert concluded that cardiac arrest was not experienced at the time of the fall because, once on the ground, the decedent clearly had a pulse. The expert further opined that the decedent did not die from mitral regurgitation or heart disease but from falling onto his head, which caused a closed head injury with a massive concussion.

    The employer’s medical expert testified that it was highly possible a cardiac episode caused the decedent to lose consciousness. This expert also opined that the decedent’s brain injury stemmed primarily from cardiac arrhythmia and secondarily from the blow to the head when he hit the floor. Both experts agreed that the decedent suffered brain death.

    The Workers’ Compensation Judge granted the claimant’s petition, and the Appeal Board affirmed. The employer appealed to the Commonwealth Court, arguing that the testimony of the claimant’s medical expert was equivocal since he offered alternate theories regarding the exact cause of the decedent’s death.

    The Commonwealth Court disagreed and affirmed the decisions below. It noted that, although the claimant’s expert set forth four possible explanations regarding the connection between the decedent’s fall and his death, under each scenario, his ultimate conclusion was that the fall and blunt force head trauma was the cause of death. The expert further testified that, absent the head trauma, the decedent would still be alive.