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The PA Supreme Court Makes It Easier For Fire Fighters To Get Workers’ Comp Benefits For Cancer

January 17th, 2019

In City of Philadelphia Fire Dep’t v. Workers’ Comp. Appeal Bd. (Sladek), 13 EAP 2017, 2018 WL 5046516 (Pa. Oct. 17, 2018), the Pennsylvania Supreme Court made it easier for firefighters to get workers’ compensation benefits for cancer caused by work. In this case, the Court held that a firefighter need only show that it is possible that one of the carcinogens he or she was exposed to caused their cancer.  They need not prove that the carcinogen actually caused their cancer.

The Claimant, Scott Sladek, was diagnosed with malignant melanoma after more than twelve years working as a Philadelphia firefighter.  Sladek testified to his exposure to soot, smoke and other carcinogens throughout his career.  He also offered testimony of two experts: an epidemiologist who testified that firefighters are exposed to Group 1 carcinogens in the course of their work, and another who testified that Sladek’s exposure to carcinogens was a substantial contributing factor of his cancer.  The City of Philadelphia offered its own expert who testified that inhaling carcinogens was not a known cause of skin cancer and also that the methodology used by Sladek’s expert to establish causation was neither an appropriate nor accepted methodology to determine causal relationship between a carcinogen and a given disease.

The Supreme Court explained that a firefighter has the initial burden of proof that they have cancer and that their type of cancer is one which is caused by exposure to Group 1 carcinogen, a carcinogen known to cause cancer in humans.  This only requires a general causative link between the claimant’s type of cancer and a Group 1 carcinogen.  That is that it is possible that the carcinogen caused the type of cancer with which claimant has, not that the identified carcinogen actually caused the claimant’s cancer.  This is not a heavy burden.

Next, the firefighter must establish that they:

  1. served four or more years in continuous firefighting duties;
  2. had direct exposure to a carcinogen known to cause cancer in humans; and
  3. passed a physical examination prior to asserting a claim or prior to engaging in firefighting duties that failed to reveal any evidence of cancer.

The burden of proof then shifts to the employer to provide substantial competent evidence that the firefighter’s cancer was not caused by the occupation of firefighting.

City of Philadelphia Fire Dep’t v. Workers’ Comp. Appeal Bd. (Sladek), 13 EAP 2017, 2018 WL 5046516, at *2 (Pa. Oct. 17, 2018)

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