The Pennsylvania legislature recently amended the Workers’ Compensation Act to expand the recognition of cancer as an occupational disease for firefighters. There is now a presumption that a firefighter who develops cancer developed the cancer as a result of work-related exposure as long as the firefighter could establish that he
1. had four or more years of continuous firefighting service;
2. can establish direct exposure to a Group I carcinogen (as recognized by the International Agency for Research on Cancer) as documented by a report filed to the Pennsylvania Fire Information Report System (PennFIRS), and
3. successfully passed a physical exam prior to asserting a claim or prior to engaging in firefighting duties and the examination failed to reveal any evidence of cancer.
Claim must be made by a firefighter within 600 weeks (approximately 11.5 years) after the last date of employment. However, the presumption only applies to claims made within the first 300 weeks (approximately 5.5 years) after the last date of employment.
The employer may rebut the presumption by substantial competent evidence that shows that the firefighter’s cancer was not caused by the occupation of firefighting. The new law applies to both paid and volunteer firemen.
If a firefighter is found to have developed cancer as a result of his firefighting duties, the employer is liable to pay all of his disease-related medical bills and partial or total wage loss benefits for any time missed from work.
The shifting of the burden of proof to the employer to prove that a firefighter’s cancer is not work-related is significant and should make it easier for firefighters who develop cancer to prove that the disease was caused by their work-related exposures. This new law amending the Workers’ Compensation Act should result in more firefighters getting the compensation they deserve while allowing them to focus on getting the treatment they need to combat the disease.
If you are a firefighter (or if you know a firefighter) who has developed cancer, please contact Dougherty, Leventhal & Price, L.L.P. for a free consultation regarding your right to receive workers’ compensation benefits and/or heart and lung benefits.