Tag Archives: cancer

The Cancer Presumption in Workers’ Compensation

Today’s post comes from guest author Thomas Domer, from The Domer Law Firm.

What is a legal presumption? 

Can a legal presumption be rebutted by sufficient contrary evidence?

Wisconsin workers’ compensation law contains many presumptions. For example, for firefighters, it is presumed that if a firefighter has cancer, the cancer is employment-related. The Statute applies to any State, County, or Municipal firefighter who has worked for ten years with at least two-thirds of the working hours as a firefighter who has cancer of the skin, breast, central nervous system, or lymphatic, digestive, hematological, urinary, skeletal, oral, or reproductive systems. For that firefighter whose disability or death is caused by cancer, the cancer diagnosis is presumptive evidence that the cancer was caused by employment. However, no presumption exists for firefighters who smoke cigarettes or use tobacco products for claims after January 2001. (Wis. Stat. §891.455 Presumption of Employment Connected Disease: Cancer)

Other presumptions in Wisconsin law include a presumption that a youthful worker (under age 27) is presumed to be able to earn the maximum wage rate by the time he reaches age 27, for purposes of Permanent Partial Disability, disfigurement, or death. For example, a McDonalds burger-flipper earning $10 per hour who has a severe burn is presumed (instead of the $200 or $300 he actually earns per week) to be earning $1,400 per week under the Youthful Age Presumption. Evidence of the worker’s likely inability to earn the maximum wage (due to cognitive or academic deficiency or similar lower earning work history) can be used to rebut the presumption and therefore limit the maximum Permanent Partial Disability or disfigurement award.

In a recent cancer case, the Pennsylvania workers’ compensation board found a firefighter cannot receive workers’ compensation benefits for prostate cancer because he failed to show his cancer was work-related despite a statutory presumption for firefighters. The firefighter began working for the City of Philadelphia in the 1970s and retired in 2006 after a diagnosis of prostate cancer. He filed a workers’ compensation claim saying his cancer stemmed from carcinogens he was exposed to while working as a firefighter, such as diesel fumes from fire trucks, second hand tobacco smoke from co-workers, and smoke from burning debris he encountered while fighting fires. Note he also acknowledged he smoked an average of a half pack of cigarettes daily since the 1960s. His doctor’s testimony that his carcinogen exposure caused the prostate cancer was rebutted by the City’s physician indicating that prostate cancer is typically more of a “disease of aging than it is of external influence.” The Judge, in denying the claim, noted “Any elevated risks for prostate cancer among firefighters might also be explained by other factors, such as detection bias, ethnicity and geography.”

The cancer presumption in Wisconsin (for non-smoking firefighters) would be more difficult to rebut, but factors such as family history may prove the “other evidence” necessary to rebut the presumption.

Action Needed To Ensure Sick 9/11 First Responders Receive Benefits

Animal Control Officer Diane DiGiacomo

Today’s post comes from guest author Catherine Stanton, from Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano.

A couple weeks ago, the Workers’ Compensation community was stunned over the outcome of the case of Animal Control Officer Diane DiGiacomo who developed cancer from exposure to toxins in the air after 9/11. Diane’s job was to search for and rescue pets near Ground Zero when many of the buildings surrounding the area were either evacuated or abandoned for weeks after the terrorist attack. 

Diane had filed a Workers’ Compensation claim after being diagnosed with breast cancer that had metastasized to her brain. The judge ruled that she was not entitled to New York State Workers’ Compensation benefits because she had not filed a timely claim. At the time of the ruling, Diane was bedridden and weighed a mere 60 pounds. Tragically, four days after the decision, she died as a result of her cancer. While my firm did not represent her, Diane’s tragic story touched many of us in the industry, whether as advocates for the injured worker or as defense counsel. What makes this case particularly sad is that the judge noted it was clear from the medical evidence that the cancer developed at least in part due to her exposure to the toxins in the air. Unfortunately, Diane was not entitled to Workers’ Compensation benefits because the deadline to register had passed.   

In order to be able to obtain Workers’ Compensation benefits for exposure after the 9/11 attacks, those who participated in the rescue, recovery, and clean up operations had to file a TWC-12 registration form prior to the current deadline of September 11, 2014. You did not have to actually be sick to file this form, but it preserved your rights if you worked in the area to file a claim later if you were found to be sick. It should be noted that the deadline has been extended twice because many of the illnesses such as cancer are slow starting and do not manifest themselves until many years after final exposure to toxins. The New York State Legislature has not extended this deadline again, at least as of this date.  

Officer DiGiacomo did not file her claim until sometime after September 11, 2014, because she was not actually diagnosed with cancer until after this date. According to the New York State Workers’ Compensation Board website, as of September 11, 2011, there were close to 49,000 WTC- 12 forms filed; however, hundreds or even thousands more may have been at the site doing rescue, recovery, and clean up and have not registered precisely because they were not sick as of the deadline or they didn’t know they had 9/11-related medical conditions. Perhaps it was based on their lack of understanding of the law or the opinion of some that they did not want to register because they somehow felt they would be taking benefits away from those who were already ill. Whatever the reason, it is imperative that the deadline once again be extended so that those who are currently ill, or become ill, have the full protection of the law.  

A bill introduced in the New York State Assembly by Assemblyman Peter J. Abbate, Jr., and co-sponsored by Assemblyman Phillip Goldfeder to extend the deadline to September 11, 2017, is still sitting in Committee. While Officer DiGiacomo did not live long enough to see the deadline extended, it is not too late to compensate her son and the rest of her family. Let’s make sure that those who helped get our city back on its feet are not forgotten.

 

Catherine M. Stanton is a senior partner in the law firm of Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano, LLP. She focuses on the area of Workers’ Compensation, having helped thousands of injured workers navigate a highly complex system and obtain all the benefits to which they were entitled. Ms. Stanton has been honored as a New York Super Lawyer, is the past president of the New York Workers’ Compensation Bar Association, the immediate past president of the Workers’ Injury Law and Advocacy Group, and is an officer in several organizations dedicated to injured workers and their families. She can be reached at 800.692.3717.

Are Firefighter Cancer Deaths an Occupational Disease?

Today’s post comes from guest author Rod Rehm, from Rehm, Bennett & Moore.

Workers’ compensation has provided benefits or coverage for occupational diseases for generations. Occupational disease is defined by Nebraska law as: “a disease which is due to causes and conditions which are characteristic of and peculiar to a particular trade, occupation, process, or employment and excludes all ordinary diseases of life to which the general public is exposed.” This is a typical definition of an occupational disease. Some examples of recognized occupational diseases are black lung disease for miners, mesothelioma for asbestos workers, lung disease for rubber workers, and leukemia for workers exposed to benzene.  

More studies are done to determine the cause of diseases as medical science advances. A recent study concludes that smoke and chemical exposure by firefighters may cause higher rates of cancer among firefighters. Firefighters, while usually healthier than the general population, have a higher incidence of cancer. More studies need to be done to determine if the peculiar exposure to smoke causes or aggravates cancer.

As medicine and science evolve, there may be more recognized “occupational diseases” and more workers and their families compensated for harm caused by the workplace.

Increased in risk of specific NHL subtypes associated with occupational exposure to TCE

Trichloroethylene

Today’s post comes from guest author Jon Gelman, from Jon L Gelman LLC.

Study published linkig trichloroethylene exposure to cancer.

The chemical compound trichloroethylene (C2HCl3) is a chlorinated hydrocarbon commonly used as an industrial solvent. It is a clear non-flammable liquid with a sweet smell.

Objectives We evaluated the association between occupational exposure to trichloroethylene (TCE) and risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) in a pooled analysis of four international case-control studies.

Methods Overall, the pooled study population included 3788 NHL cases and 4279 controls. Risk of NHL and its major subtypes associated with TCE exposure was calculated with unconditional logistic regression and polytomous regression analysis, adjusting by age, gender and study.

Results Risk of follicular lymphoma (FL), but not NHL overall or other subtypes, increased by probability (p=0.02) and intensity level (p=0.04), and with the combined analysis of four exposure metrics assumed as independent (p=0.004). After restricting the analysis to the most likely exposed study subjects, risk of NHL overall, FL and chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) were elevated and increased by duration of exposure (p=0.009, p=0.04 and p=0.01, respectively) and with the combined analysis of duration, frequency and intensity of exposure (p=0.004, p=0.015 and p=0.005, respectively). Although based on small numbers of exposed, risk of all the major NHL subtypes, namely diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, FL and CLL, showed increases in risk ranging 2–3.2-fold in the highest category of exposure intensity. No significant heterogeneity in risk was detected by major NHL subtypes or by study.

Conclusions Our pooled analysis apparently supports the hypothesis of an increase in risk of specific NHL subtypes associated with occupational exposure to TCE.

9/11 Fund Starts Making Payments To Victims

Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy

Today’s post comes from guest author Jon Gelman from Jon Gelman, LLC – Attorney at Law.

The Zadroga 9/11 Victims Claim Fund has started to make payments to victims of the World Trade Center attack. First Responders andthose who lived or worked in the immediate geographical site near “ground zero” may be entitled to the payment of benenfits for illness and injuries that they suffer as a result of the terrorist attack.

Those eligible include, individuals present at  a 9/11 crash site at the time of or in the immediate aftermath, who suffer physical harm as a result of the crashes or debris removal. Also the personal representatives of individuals who were present at a 9/11 crash site, who died as a result of the crashes or debris removal, are eligible to file claims.

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Can Cell Phones Cause Cancer (On The Job)?

An Italian court ruled that excessive mobile phone use can cause cancer.

Today’s post comes from guest author Tom Domer from The Domer Law Firm.

An Italian court ruled that excessive mobile phone use can cause cancer. Italy’s Supreme Court upheld a ruling linking a business executive’s brain tumor and excessive mobile phone use. While much of the scientific opinion generally suggests there is not enough evidence to declare such a link, those studies were co-financed by the same companies that produce mobile telephones. The evidence in the Italian case was based on studies conducted between 2005 and 2009 by a group led by Dr. Lennart Hardell, cancer specialist at the University Hospital in Orebro in Sweden. The Italian court, relying on this research, noted this was independent research unlike other research financed by mobile telephone companies. The business executive Innocenzo Marcolini developed a tumor in the left side of his head after using his mobile telephone for 5 to 6 hours a day for a dozen years. He usually held the phone in his left hand while taking notes with his right hand.  He developed a “neurinoma” which affected his cranial nerve, and sought worker’s compensation from the Italian Worker’s Compensation Authority. The initial application was rejected because of a lack of proof but a court in Brescia later ruled there was a causal link between the use of mobile and cordless telephones and tumors.

Wisconsin provides benefits for an employee’s death or disability due to a cancerous condition if causally related to work exposure to carcinogens. There are numerous potential cancer causing agents in the workplace, but none so far have been linked to cell phone use. The causation standard is straightforward in Wisconsin. If the patient suffers from a condition caused by an “appreciable period of workplace exposure” the physicians are asked whether that exposure was either the sole cause of the condition or at least a material, contributory, causative factor in the condition’s onset or progression. This Italian court case suggests a further inquiry into the subject may be appropriate.

Previously-Denied Claims for Some Hanford Workers to be Reviewed

Today’s post comes from guest author Kit Case from Causey Law Firm.

Annette Cary of the Tri-City Herald reported on a change in the way that some claims will be handled for exposures at the Hanford Nuclear Site, including a review of more than 800 previously denied or pending claims for ill Hanford workers that are being reconsidered or put on a fast track for a decision after federal compensation rules were recently eased.

All those claims are for cancers covered by a newly designated special exposure cohort for workers at Hanford from July 1972 through 1983. Workers received that designation if inadequate information existed to estimate their radiation exposure.

The classification allows workers or their survivors to claim $150,000 in compensation plus medical coverage without an estimate showing they received enough radiation to likely cause the cancer. They also may be eligible for up to an additional $250,000 for impairment and wage loss.

Read Ms. Cary’s full story here for more details.