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Should workers' compensation apply to firefighters' cancer?

Most people agree that being a firefighter is one of the most dangerous professions someone can choose. Events such as 9/11 are evidence of the danger, as well as the commitment of these men and women to their jobs. However, some of the dangers associated with this profession are not realized until long after an emergency has been resolved. Exposure to any type of smoke and fire over the lifetime of a career can ultimately cause serious illness and even death. But even though these conditions stem from employment, should firefighters be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits for cancer?

Some cities and states are starting to answer in the affirmative. Traditionally, firefighters’ work-related injuries and illnesses have been covered by efforts of the unions that represent them. But those unions have been working hard to have state legislatures recognize the work-related nature of firefighters’ cancer claims. 

So far, they have been successful, to at least some degree, in 33 states, including Illinois. According to the International Association of Fire Fighters, Illinois law states that the "cancer involved must be a type which may be caused by exposure to heat, radiation, or a known carcinogen as defined by the International Agency for Research on Cancer."

Some state and local governments are fighting the presumptive coverage. Some argue that the coverage will significantly increase expenses and make it difficult, if not impossible, to prove that the condition was due to other causes.

For example, a firefighter who is diagnosed with lung cancer is presumed to have that illness because of his years of inhaling carcinogens in the course of his job duties. But if the firefighter has smoked three packs of cigarettes a day for the last 20 years, it is still up to the government to prove that the smoking caused the cancer, as opposed to the dangers of the job.

While firefighters may have the benefit of this presumption, these standards are not the case across the board with workers’ compensation cases. Regardless of your occupation, if you suffer an injury or illness that could be related to your job, consider getting the advice of a workers’ compensation attorney to determine whether you may have rights to any benefits to cover medical expense or replace income if and when you are unemployed.

Source: Mission Local, "Supervisors To Consider Firefighting and Cancer Link," April 16, 2014

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