Firefighters across the state have been pushing for changes to the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Act that would include several cancers to the list of presumed work-related illnesses already in the Act. According to a multi-year Centers for Disease Control (CDC) study, firefighters are at a much higher risk of many types of cancer because of occupational exposure, due to exposure to carcinogens in the air and on their skin when fighting fires.
A multi-year study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed that firefighters are at a much higher risk for certain types of cancer due to occupational exposure, including being twice as likely to get testicular cancer. The study also showed an increased risk for cancers such as multiple myeloma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, skin and prostate cancers, too. Under the current law, firefighters filing a workers’ compensation claim must know exactly what carcinogens they were exposed to in order to secure relief, and given the multitude of burning materials surrounding firefighters in their daily work that is almost impossible to deduce.
The proposed law removed the language that would require a firefighter to know exactly what toxic substances they were exposed to in order to claim workers’ compensation, but a recent revision in the House Appropriations Committee added the language back into the proposed law after it was already approved by the Virginia Senate. Politicians claim that they are waiting for a final study to be published on the effects of the change and any possible unintended consequences of the new law. There are concerns about the effects the new law would have on local governments and whether the scope of the new law would include capital police, DGIF, and others.
Virginia Workers’ Compensation
Workers’ compensation is a no-fault system that allows employees to collect benefits after they have been injured or developed an illness on the job in exchange for waiving their rights to sue their employer for compensation. In most cases, a workers’ compensation claim in Virginia must be filed within two years of the incident that caused the injury or date of diagnosis of a work-related illness. Workers’ compensation helps to cover the cost of medical expenses, wage replacement, permanent partial disability, permanent total disability, death benefits, and more. However, for firefighters across Virginia, including in Richmond, the system works a little different.
The current law presumes that for firefighters, certain illnesses and cancers are automatically related to their work given the level of carcinogens they are surrounded by on a daily basis. These include leukemia, pancreatic cancer, prostate cancer, rectal cancer, throat cancer, ovarian cancer, and breast cancer. However, the new law looks to add testicular, colon, and brain cancer to that list, which are currently not presumed under Virginia law. In addition to knowing exactly what carcinogen they were exposed to that caused one of these three types of cancers, a firefighter must also prove that it was not another substance that caused the illness.
Talk to a Workers’ Compensation Attorney
If you are a firefighter in the Richmond area and diagnosed with cancer, our experienced workers’ compensation attorneys are here to help. Call the office or contact us today at Harbison & Kavanagh to learn more about your legal options for filing for workers’ compensation benefits.