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Michael Dryden Discusses PA Firefighter Workers’ Compensation Cancer Case: Steele v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Findlay Township) Part 4 [Video]

In this short video, Workers’ Compensation Department Chair and Philadelphia attorney Michael Dryden, discusses a volunteer firefighter’s workers’ compensation cancer case.

In Part 4 of this video series, Michael Dryden discusses Steele v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Findlay Township). This was Willig, Williams & Davidson’s first cancer case regarding a volunteer firefighter. Mr. Steele died of lung cancer and the firm prevailed in front of the judge on a Section 108(r) claim. The appeal board reversed because one of the requirements under Section 301(f) is that any volunteer firefighter making a claim needs to base their claim on “evidence of direct exposure to a carcinogen referred to in Section 108(r) (the IARC Group 1 carcinogens) as documented by reports filed pursuant to the Pennsylvania Fire Information Reporting System.”

In the Steele case, the appeal board did not need to address head on the meaning of the phrase “as documented by reports” because Findlay Township, the town where Mr. Steele volunteered, did not participate in Penn First so there were no Penn First documents to review. The commonwealth court vacated the appeal board’s decision and remanded it back to the workers’ compensation judge because Willig, Williams & Davidson had made other averments. It’s important to note when doing occupational disease work that you don’t just show up with your one way to win if you have three ways to win.  In this case the firm argued 108(r), 108(o) because it was a lung disease, and 301(c)1 because it was an injury.  You may pursue alternate averments with your evidence. The board should have vacated the case and sent it back to the judge, but the commonwealth court has done that and found the firm’s expert more credible than the defendant’s.

The bigger issue are the Penn First reports and what is done with them.  One cancer case decided was where a volunteer firefighter produced Penn First reports which do not list the carcinogens. The judge looked for specific carcinogens in the reports when he read “as documented by reports.” There is no way to present that burden because firefighters have never tested for carcinogens in an active fire, therefore they can’t write on a report what carcinogens they were exposed to. Saying that volunteer firefighters have to document carcinogens on the Penn First report is essentially removing the volunteer firefighters from this law.

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