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New law threatens workers comp for firefighters

Pennsylvania firefighters routinely put their lives on the line to keep others safe. But, the immediate risk of getting hurt in a burning building isn't the only chance of injury they face. Many firefighters are exposed to a significant amount of smoke, hazardous chemicals and other carcinogens. Some will develop cancer as a result of this exposure.

Firefighters who develop a cancer that is related to on-the-job exposure are eligible to file for workers' compensation benefits. This process got easier a couple years ago with the passage of the Firefighters Cancer Presumption Act. That law creates a presumption that every cancer found in a firefighter was caused by something that happened at work. The law also increases the time that firefighters have to bring a claim after the cancer is discovered.

Municipalities are allowed to introduce evidence rebutting the presumption if there is proof that the cancer may have been caused by something else.

While the law was meant to make things easier for firefighters, it is starting to cause some significant problems for municipalities. This is because many of the insurance companies who previously provided workers' compensation coverage to Pennsylvania municipalities are now pulling out of the market.

The insurance companies are worried that the new law could hurt their bottom lines. They simply don't think that the premiums the municipalities could pay would be worth the expense of future claims.

This has left a number of municipalities struggling to find appropriate coverage. Some may choose to become self insured and pay claims out of their own coffers.

Source: Firehouse, "Insurers Cutting Workers' Comp. for Pa. Firefighters," Joseph Kout, April 29, 2013

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