MO Industrial Commission awards benefits to Firefighter for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
On June 15, the Missouri Industrial Commission rendered a decision in the case of David Cheney (deceased) v. City of Gladstone. You can read the entire decision by clicking here.
Claimant was a firefighter for the City of Gladstone, contracted non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and died. The Administrative Law Judge denied benefits to the surviving spouse because there was no evidence that claimant, as a firefighter, was ever specifically exposed to any substance known to cause non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
The Industrial Commission reversed the denial and awarded benefits, stating: “evidence of a specific type and/or magnitude of exposure is not necessary in occupational disease cases; instead, employee’s expert needed only establish there was a probability that working conditions caused the disease”.
THE “FIREFIGHTER PRESUMPTION” DID NOT APPLY
Under Section 287.067, the statute lists a series of conditions which, if a firefighter contracts these conditions, there is a rebuttable presumption that the disease is work-related. Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is not on that list, and the Commission did NOT base this award on this statutory section.
Rather, the Commission held, independent of the “Firefighter Presumption”, claimant need not show any specific exposure in order to receive workers compensation benefits.
This decision is troubling on many fronts, but most agregious is this – – non-Hodgkin’s lymphona is a cancer that is primarly idiopathic. While exposure to certain chemicals can increase the risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, there was absolutly no evidence of claimant being exposed to those chemicals. None.
Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is easily considered a “normal disease of life”, and yet the Commission awarded benefits even thought there was no evidence of any specific exposure to chemicals that could cause this disease. Does this decision mean that the workers compensation act should be construed to award claimants benefits following the contraction of any normal disease of life? Apparently so.
If you want to discuss how this decision might apply to a specific situation, please let me know.