Pennsylvania Firefighters Who Develop Cancer Are Covered By New Workers' Compensation Law

By Vincent J. Quatrini, Jr., Esq.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett just signed into law a bill that can grant workers' compensation benefits to firefighters suffering from cancer caused by dangerous carcinogens released from fumes. The new law became effective July 7, 2011.

Under the new law, the term occupational disease has been amended to include "cancer suffered by a firefighter which is caused by exposure to a known carcinogen recognized as a Group 1 carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer." Group 1 carcinogens include asbestos, benzene, coal and other emissions from fumes.

In order to file a claim for benefits under the new law, a firefighter must have served 4 or more years in continuous firefighting duties, must prove direct exposure to the carcinogen, and must have successfully passed a physical examination prior to engaging in firefighting duties. That exam must not have revealed any evidence of the condition of cancer.

This major change in the workers' compensation law benefits both volunteer and paid firefighters. Of course, a firefighter must still prove that he or she was exposed to the carcinogen while fighting a fire. The presumption of occupational disease can be overturned by evidence that shows that the firefighter engaged in activities outside of firefighting duties that posed a substantial risk of causing the cancer, including the continuous use of tobacco products for 2 or more years.

If you serve as a firefighter, it is our recommendation that you undergo a baseline physical examination as soon as possible. In addition, if you or one of your friends or family are firefighters and are suffering from a cancer which you believe to be related to your firefighting duties, please give us a call so that we can review how this new, important law may apply to you.