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Pennsylvania Supreme Court Issues Decision in City of Phila. Fire Dept. vs. W.C.A.B. (Sladek)

October 18, 2018

On October 17, 2018, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued a decision in City of Phila. Fire Dept. vs. W.C.A.B. (Sladek).  The decision is a tremendous win for firefighters and dependents dealing with a cancer diagnosis. Michael Dryden, a partner at Willig, Williams & Davidson, has represented dozens of firefighters in Workers’ Compensation claims for cancer. Sladek is the first decision from the Supreme Court to decisively address the burden of proof placed upon a firefighter or firefighter dependent under the Cancer Presumption Provisions added to the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act in 2011.

The Supreme Court’s decision reversed an earlier decision by the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania that created a more difficult burden for firefighters to claim cancer as a covered occupational disease. The Court specifically addressed two issues raised by Willig, Williams & Davidson for Firefighter Sladek. First, what are the evidentiary requirements for a firefighter/claimant to demonstrate that he or she has a compensable occupational disease and secondly, whether an employer can rebut the presumption of compensability with purely epidemiologic evidence not specific to the firefighter.

A majority of the Supreme Court reduced the burden on the firefighter by establishing that the firefighter or dependent must only show that the diagnosed cancer is of a type that is capable of being caused by exposure to a known carcinogen and that an employer cannot rebut the presumption of compensability with purely epidemiologic evidence. Once the claimant has established the relationship between the cancer and known carcinogens, the burden then shifts to the employer to provide a causation opinion specific to the claimant. The employer must now establish a non-work related cause of the firefighter’s cancer to defeat the presumption provided by the Workers’ Compensation law.

The Supreme Court’s decision emphatically and conclusively establishes that firefighters are eligible for a presumption that cancer is work-related. As a result of the Court’s decision today, more firefighters and firefighter dependents will have access to benefits after being diagnosed with cancer. 

David Madden of KYW Newsradio 1060 reports on the story: Pennsylvania Supreme Court makes landmark labor ruling on cancer claims.

The following video provides additional context. It was recorded before the October 17, 2018 Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision. It addresses the significance of this case.

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