Firefighters, paramedics and emergency medical technicians (EMTs) face unique risks associated with their jobs. They are routinely exposed to loud noises when responding to emergencies. They render medical assistance to accident victims and periodically expose themselves to the bodily fluids of those victims as well as bacteria, viruses and diseases.
Firefighters have the additional risks associated with fighting fires, responding to vehicle accidents, and inhaling the substances created by the fires which then contaminate the clothes they are wearing. Recent studies are pointing to the conclusion that firefighters face an increased risk of cancer and other medical conditions as a result of their job duties, especially fighting fires.
Several years ago the Illinois Legislature amended the law to provide firefighters, paramedics and EMTs with some additional protection. If anyone has been employed in such a job for 5 or more years, the law presumes that certain medical conditions are work-related thus entitling them to workers' compensation benefits. This presumption applies to the following medical conditions that are listed in the statute:
- Lung or respiratory disease or condition
- Heart or vascular disease or condition
- Hearing loss
- Any disease or condition resulting from a bloodborne pathogen
Court decisions have construed this change in the law to mean that benefits will be awarded unless the employer can prove that the injured worker's medical condition was caused by factors unrelated to his/her job activities. How much evidence the employer needs to produce in order to deny the award of benefits to the injured worker depends upon the facts of each individual case.
However, in a recent trial conducted in Springfield, attorney Martin J. Haxel successfully represented a retired Springfield firefighter who was awarded benefits for his hearing loss. In the decision awarding these benefits, the arbitrator concluded that the city's evidence was insufficient and the fire fighter was entitled to take advantage of the presumption contained in the law. The firefighter was awarded benefits for his hearing loss and the city was also ordered to provide future medical expenses which will include hearing aids.
Again, these cases need to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. But the judicial decisions mentioned above, and the most recent decision in the case of the Springfield firefighter, seem to suggest that obtaining benefits could be easier for the injured worker, and more difficult for the employer to deny. If you or someone you know is a firefighter, paramedic or EMT suffering from one of the medical conditions listed above, contact Haxel Law for a free consultation. It will cost nothing to see if you may be entitled to benefits.