Posted on Saturday, March 21st, 2020 at 2:18 pm
The JLARC’s review of Virginia’s workers’ compensation laws focused on a variety of issues including the relationship between firefighting and 10 different types of cancer to determine what presumptions should apply. They study was performed by epidemiologists at Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health.
We discussed some of these issues in a previous article. The general findings of the study were as follows:
83 studies on cancer, heart disease, respiratory disease, and PTSD among firefighters and police officers were analyzed and evaluated for quality and bias.
The epidemiologists made the following findings regarding the validity of Virginia’s current and proposed cancer presumptions:
Johns Hopkins University epidemiologists determined that the best available evidence provides some support for most of Virginia’s current and proposed cancer presumptions.
The study found that the firefighters had an increased risk of the following types of cancer:
The Johns Hopkins study did not have enough evidence on the following cancer types:
No research was done on ovarian cancer. This is interesting, since pancreatic cancer and breast cancer are specifically listed in VA Code 65.2-402 ( C ) among those cancers to be presumed to be an occupational disease. As mentioned in a previous article on this subject, the mention of pancreatic cancer is inherently contradictory since it is really impossible to know what caused any pancreatic cancer based on our current state of scientific knowledge.
The JLARC report, based on the John Hopkins study, recommended that worker’s compensation laws in Virginia create presumptions for the following cancer types:
The reports added that colon cancer could be added to the list though the evidence for adding it wasn’t as strong as the other two cancer types.
Current cancer presumptions which should be maintained or could be subject to a sunset provision depended on the following:
Enactment of Virginia House bill 1804 (which adds several cancer presumptions) for firefighter should result in just about six new compensable workers’ compensation claims yearly – though the five year total is expected to be high.
“Some additional liability would be created for firefighters no longer working with an employer and still within statute of limitations.”
The JLARC also found that the “requirements to establish cancer presumptions for firefighters are unreasonably burdensome and appear counter to the purpose of the presumption.” This is the same comment I had made in my previous article on this subject.
Most disputed claims by firefighters for Virginia workers’ compensation benefits – between 2019 to 2018 – found that the firefighter would not be entitled to benefits – in large part because of the failure to prove exposure to the right substance.
Of the 20 firefighter/cancer cases heard during that timeframe:
The “presumption covers firefighters who have had “contact with toxic substance encountered in line of duty.” A big part of the reason for these denials was that firefighters were required to “prove exposure to specific carcinogen suspected to cause their particular type of cancer.” “Of 16 cases heard by VWC in which firefighters did not meet all requirements, the firefighter did not meet the toxic exposure requirement in seven.”
The Johns Hopkins scientists found that:
The study found that it would be sufficient if firefighters were required to show exposure to hazardous conditions that, in turn, exposed them to carcinogens.
Another finding by the JLARC study was that Virginia’s requirement for 12 years of continuous service was not supported by scientific evidence (studies have shown that less service time could cause cancer) and was the highest in the country (the next highest was 20 years). In fact, there is case law that says that assuming there is sufficient proof that a firefighter has a type of cancer caused by exposure to known cancer-causing toxins that match up to that cancer, he or she need only prove ONE SINGLE EXPOSURE to a fire to prove there was sufficient exposure. In that context, the 12 continuous years of service makes little sense.
Virginia workers’ compensation lawyer Joe Miller Esq. has been fighting aggressively for injured workers and workers who suffer occupational illnesses – for more than 31 years. He understands how dangerous firefighting, policing work, and other types of first response work are. For help with any illness claim based on your work, please phone Joe Miller, Esq., at 888-694-1671 or use my online contact form to speak with a strong advocate.