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Bill calls for Michigan to join ranks of states granting work comp for firefighter cancer

In workers' compensation defense news, lawmakers in the state of Michigan are currently considering a bill that would extend much-needed benefits to those firefighters who develop a potentially deadly disease that many believe can be traced to the inherently dangerous nature of their profession.

Senate Bill 211, sponsored by state Sen. Tory Rocca (R-Sterling Heights), would mandate that any full-time firefighter who was employed by a municipality for at least five years before developing cancer -- bladder, blood, brain, kidney, lymphatic, prostate, skin, testicular, thyroid and respiratory tract -- could file a work comp claim.

Those firefighters who used tobacco products on a regular basis within ten years of developing the cancer, and whose habit clearly caused, aggravated or advanced the cancer would be excluded under the bipartisan measure.

SB 211 is being widely embraced by the state's firefighters who claim it is an absolute necessity as first responders are routinely subjected to carcinogens when entering burning structures and simply don't have the time to check for the presence of toxic chemicals beforehand. Furthermore, they argue that existing laws make it extremely hard for cancer-stricken firefighters to secure any type of work comp benefits.

"Under the current system, you have to prove you're injured on the job," said Mark Docherty, president of Michigan Professional Firefighters Union. "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."

While SB 211 has its fair share of supporters, it is not without its critics.

Namely, both the insurance industry and the Michigan Municipal League have spoken out against the legislation, claiming it will result in very high work comp premiums for cities, villages and townships that are already dealing with limited resources.

"This is obviously a very emotional issue," said Samantha Harkins, the director of state affairs for the league. "But for us, it's not about the issue itself. It's not cities versus firefighters. It's about the cost. At a time when many communities are already struggling for revenues, and limited in the revenue they can raise, this would further tighten things up."

The bill is currently before the Senate Judiciary Committee and, if ultimately passed by the state legislature, would see Michigan join the ranks of over 30 other states (including California) whose work comp laws grant benefits to cancer-stricken firefighters. However, it should be noted that similar legislation has failed in the state over the last decade.

Stay tuned for further developments in the area of workers' compensation defense law ...


Michigan Live, "Workers comp for firefighter cancer? Michigan bill would treat disease as occupational hazard," Jonathan Oosting, April 22, 2013

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