Workers Comp Bill Loosens Regulations For Firefighters’ Cancer Claims
A new bill in the Michigan senate – Senate Bill 211 – proposes to loosen regulations for firefighters so they can file workers comp claims for certain types of job-related cancers.
The bipartisan bill was introduced to the Michigan senate by Republican Tory Rocca, specifically to amend Michigan’s workers comp laws to allow firefighters to file a claim if they develop certain types of cancer, including respiratory, bladder, skin, and brain cancers. Firefighters would have to work in that specific job for a specific municipality for at least five years to be eligible, and would not apply to firefighters who put themselves at risk for certain other cancers by using tobacco products, for example.
The bill states that certain types of cancers are specifically job hazards related to firefighting, so firefighters would not need to prove on-the-job exposure to file.
Firefighters rarely have time to test for hazardous chemicals before they rush into burning buildings, and are therefore exposed to toxic, cancer-causing chemicals in nearly every instance, according to Mark Docherty, President of the Michigan Professional Firefighters Union.
“Under the current system, you have to prove you’re injured on the job,” Docherty said. “That’s easy if you break your leg at a fire scene. But with cancer, it’s more cumulative. Each time you’re exposed to carcinogens you get more and more in your system.”
Although this is a new bill, the debate about firefighters and job-related cancer dates back to 1998 in Michigan, when then-Governor John Engler vetoed similar legislation because the link between firefighting and cancer was unproven. Subsequent research, particularly a 2006 study conducted by the University of Cincinnati, established that firefighters are at increased risk of certain types of cancer.
“There’s no debate any more as to whether or not we’re exposed,” said Docherty. “Every fire we go in to we’re exposed to carcinogens. Not even just by breathing; it’s absorbed by our skin. What it comes down to now is whether we’re going to take care of our firefighters.”
More than 30 other states have adopted workers comp laws that presume the link between firefighting and certain cancers, according to Docherty. He added that the Michigan debate has shifted from need, to cost.
Insurance Industry Opposes Changes to Michigan Workers Comp
Insurance companies throughout Michigan have consistently opposed previous versions of the bill. The Michigan Municipal League also opposes the legislation, citing fears that workers comp premiums will go up throughout the state.
Pete Kuhnmuech works with the Insurance Institute of Michigan, and says that local governments will not be able to afford the increased workers comp rates.
“It’s going to include a number of other expenses under the work comp system that quite frankly really don’t belong there… wage replacement and other things,” he said.
Samantha Harkins, the director of state affairs for the Michigan Municipal League, says, “We think that the increased cost to workers compensation premiums would ultimately mean some communities would have to cut personnel, and if that ends up being a public safety person, they wouldn’t even have health insurance anymore.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee will hear testimony about Senate Bill 211 on Tuesday, April 23rd.
The Strom Law Firm Can Help with Workers Comp Claims in South Carolina
The workers comp lawyers at The Strom Law Firm, LLC proudly seek justice on behalf of employees injured or killed on the job who work for private companies, as well as employees working for local county, city, and state government.We are licensed to practice throughout South Carolina, as well as Georgia and New York. If you are confused about worker’s comp laws, or have had your worker’s comp claim denied, contact us. We offer free consultations to discuss the facts of your case. 803.252.4800.