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Landmark ruling for firefighters suffering cancer

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued a ruling that lessens the burden of proof for a firefighter when making a cancer-related workers’ compensation claim.

“The brave men and women who serve as firefighters are placed in danger on a daily basis in their efforts to help others. By its very nature, the occupation of firefighting exposes these men and women to cancer causing substances regularly,” said partner Christopher Fleming. “The Workers’ Compensation Act and the Court’s interpretation with regard to cancer among firefighters is a much needed application of common sense.”

This ruling stems from the 2012 case, City of Philadelphia Fire Department v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Sladek).

The Court found that there is, initially, a burden of proof for the claimant (employee). The claimant must demonstrate that the disease is occupational and must also establish that they:

  1. Served four or more years of continuous firefighting duty
  2. Had direct exposure to Group 1 carcinogen
  3. Passed a physical exam (with no evidence of cancer) before asserting the workers’ compensation claim and/or before beginning firefighting duties

Essentially, in order to collect workers’ compensation benefits, the claimant must show that it was possible that the carcinogen they were exposed to at work caused their cancer.

The employer can rebut the claim, but only if it can show that the claimant’s cancer was not caused by firefighting. To do this, the employer must demonstrate: (1) the specific causative agent of the claimant’s cancer; and (2) that exposure to that agent did not happen as a result of the claimant’s employment.

For help with a workers’ compensation claim, contact our experienced attorneys. They can help you maximize the benefits available to you. Call (215) 567-1530 for Christopher Fleming in our Philadelphia office, or contact Greg Sciolla in our New Jersey office at (856) 273-6679.

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