Tag Archives: Tobacco

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.

Compensation for Secondary Smoke Inhalation

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

Recent article indicates some public health departments are offering incentives to create smoke-free policies in buildings. The idea is to reduce the exposure to second-hand smoke.

While substantial strides have been made in many states to provide both smoke-free public places and smoke-free workplaces, the dangers of secondary smoke inhalation remain. Continue reading

The Obama Agenda: The Road to Workplace Wellness

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

As workers compensation programs are being diluted by soaring medical costs, The Obama Administration’s policy makers are taking a bold new step to focus on promoting wellness and disease-prevention efforts in the workplace.

Immediately following the presidential elction last November, the Department of Labor, International Revenue Service and the Department of Health and Human Services proposed regulations to enforce workplace wellness programs under the Affordable Care Act. The proposed regulations will stimulated employer programs to invite healthier workers and may go as far as penalizing those who maintian poor diets and inadequate exercise regiems.

… regulations would increase the maximum permissible reward under a health-contingent wellness program offered in connection with a group health plan (and any related health insurance coverage) from 20 percent to 30 percent of the cost of coverage. The proposed regulations would further increase the maximum permissible reward to 50 percent for wellness programs designed to prevent or reduce tobacco use. These regulations also include other proposed clarifications regarding the reasonable design of health-contingent wellness programs and the reasonable alternatives they must offer in order to avoid prohibited discrimination.”

One analysis of the proposal concludes……

“We are cautiously optimistic about the potential of workplace-wellness programs to help contain healthcare costs and to improve the health and well-being of millions of California’s workers. Preventing illness and injury through workplace-based strategies potentially benefits employees and their families, employers, and public and private insurance providers. There is emerging evidence about the effectiveness of WWPs in improving chronic disease outcomes, and a long history of occupational health and safety practices reducing workplace injury and death. Incentives in the ACA have the potential to serve as a catalyst for expanding WWP’s broadly in California. However, policy solutions need to respond to potential unintended consequences and account for the state’s incredibly diverse communities and businesses in order to make wellness programs work for all Californians.”

Read The Greenlining Institute’s report “Helth, Equity and the Bottom line: Workplace Wellness and California Business.

Comments are due on or before January 25, 2013.