Occupational diseases are every bit as compensable under Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation law as work-related injuries. However, causation in cases of disease is not always as easily provable. For example, a fall at work can be easily connected to an injury, but how do you prove your carpal tunnel syndrome – which develops over time and not as the result of a single incident – is in fact related to your job, as opposed to some other activity?
Recently, the Washington Supreme Court took on two cases wherein the industrial board and lower courts took a different approach to the question of proof burdens for causation of occupational disease for two firefighters. Each suffered from a condition called malignant melanoma, which is a cancer of the skin. Research has shown that firefighters have much higher rates of developing many different types of cancer as compared to the general population due to on-the-job exposure to numerous toxins.
In these cases, the question arose regarding the presumption given in favor of the worker that the disease was in fact work-related. Employer/ city had the burden of rebutting that presumption in order to deny benefits. The issue was whether the rebuttal was a factual determination properly given to a jury or a matter of law. In one case, the matter was sent to a jury and in another, the case was decided by a judge. The court ruled such matters should go before a jury, therefore it affirmed the decision in the first claim and reversed in the second. Continue reading