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Update: Cancer Stricken Cop Fighting Manhattan Beach for Work Comp Payments

A previous workers' compensation defense post discussed how the city of Manhattan Beach, California, was involved in a controversial dispute with a city police officer over work comp payments. Specifically, the dispute concerned whether the police officer - who is in the midst of a four-year fight with cancer - was struck with the potentially fatal disease while on the job.

Officer Mark Vasquez, 36, was hired by the Manhattan Beach Police Department in 2005, and eventually diagnosed with multiple myeloma - a form of blood cancer that harms the bone marrow - just two years later. Since that time, he was able to return to work periodically, often while in-between treatments, and earned the nickname "Superman" from his peers due to his dedication to the job.

However, Officer Vasquez has now been on medical leave from the department since March 9, 2010. Since that time, he has not received any work comp payments or medical benefits because the city of Manhattan Beach chose to dispute his claim.

Under California law, cancer is recognized as a workplace injury for both firefighters and police officers. Accordingly, unless the city of Manhattan Beach could prove to the workers' comp judge that Officer Vasquez was not stricken with cancer while on the job, it would be liable for his past and future income and medical bills, as well as potential benefits to his family.

According to a recent ruling issued by the workers' comp judge in Officer Vasquez's case, the city of Manhattan Beach has failed to meet this burden.

In a one-sentence decision issued earlier this month, the workers' comp judge ruled that based on the credible testimony provided by both Officer Vasquez and a physician selected by the city of Manhattan Beach, the multiple myeloma was triggered by work-related causes/exposures.

The decision of the workers' comp judge clears the way for Officer Vasquez to become eligible for medical retirement benefits - which would grant him 50 percent of his current salary every year on a tax-free basis - and also makes the city liable for his estimated $500,000 in medical expenses.

While Officer Vasquez's family was understandably elated by the decision, they feared the city would inevitably pursue an appeal, prolonging an already exhausting legal process.

"It's tough enough battling cancer for our family, let alone battling the city," said Lee Vasquez, Officer Vasquez's wife. "We're disappointed after four years they want to continue to fight us by appealing the judge's decision."

While City Attorney Robert Wadden indicated that no decision on an appeal had yet been reached by City Council members, it may be an option given the substantial financial liability the city of Manhattan Beach is facing.

"The city would be responsible for paying all of the claim," said Wadden. "All those benefits would come out of city coffers."

Stay tuned for further developments in this story and other areas of workers' compensation defense law ...

This post was provided for informational purposes only and is not to be construed as legal advice.

Related Resources:

Judge rules Manhattan Beach officer got cancer on job (The Daily Breeze)

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