Cancer Presumption Claims are Failing - Why?
Back in September, I wrote a general post about Pennsylvania's Cancer Presumption Act and an August 2016 court decision (City v. Board (Sladek), No. 579 C.D. 2015) in which benefits were denied. In that case, the major issue was causation. Specifically, whether the firefighter could properly link his cancer (melanoma) with his firefighting duties. The court found that he could not based on his expert testimony. The key is that there has to be a showing that the type of cancer has been shown to be caused by the exposure to the carcinogens firefighters are exposed to. This point was again emphasized a short time later. In the Demchenko v. Board case, decided shortly after, the Commonwealth Court has further discussed the causation issue.
First, understand that a firefighter who develops cancer (and wants to make a claim) has two possible routes under the workers' compensation act. Preferably, you can make a claim under the specific firefighter cancer presumption section or you can make a claim under the more general workers' compensation occupational disease section.
Second, the Commonwealth Court again emphasized the causation issue and made it clear that a firefighter must come well-prepared to demonstrate a link between the on-the-job exposure and the specific cancer suffered from. In this case, the Court found against the firefighter and noted that under either pathway, he did not establish the connection between the cancer and the exposure:
(1) Under the firefighter cancer presumption section: "Claimant's medical evidence did not establish a causal relationship between prostate cancer and Group 1 carcinogens . . . ." Demchenko v. Board, No. 2164 C.D. 2015.
(2) Under the general workplace exposure section: "Claimant's medical evidence was also inadequate to prove his particular cancer was caused by workplace exposures to other carcinogens . . . ." Demchenko v. Board, No. 2164 C.D. 2015.
The Court also discussed, but did not have to rule, on issues relating to timeliness. Specifically, a firefighter who wants to take advantage of the cancer presumption must file "within three hundred weeks after the last date of employment in an occupation or industry to which a claimant was exposed to the hazards of disease . . . " 77 P.S. 414.
What does this mean for you as a firefighter? Careful documentation of incidents and regular cancer screenings are important. Just as important is that legal counsel identify the most appropriate medical expert to provide the necessary causation testimony.