Generally, in the case of work-related illness or injury, the burden is placed on the worker to prove their ailment is a result of occupational exposures. With the advent of presumptive legislation, that burden shifts; the employer must prove that the firefighter’s working conditions were not a significant contributing factor to the development of cancer. With presumptive legislation, the line-of-duty claim, and subsequent benefits, can be automatically approved as long as the specific criteria are met under the state’s regulations.
A majority of states now cover firefighters for one or more cancers under workers’ compensation because of presumptive legislation. In many states, the presumptive legislation contains broad or nonspecific language that can be interpreted to cover any cancer experienced by a firefighter. In other states, only specific cancers are covered. Most commonly those are leukemia, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, brain cancer, bladder cancer, and gastrointestinal cancer.
In states where presumptive legislation has been implemented, records of occupational exposure have played an often-critical role in ensuring a diagnosis of cancer is covered by workers’ compensation. This underscores the importance of agency-wide, comprehensive exposure tracking systems. At a minimum, firefighters can, and should, maintain a record of their own individual exposures.