Workers’ comp for firefighters with certain cancers gains final OK

Staff writer Aaron Gould Sheinin contributed.

Georgia firefighters with any type of cancer could get workers’ compensation if they can provide “a preponderance” of evidence that their work caused the disease, under legislation that gained final approval in the Legislature on Thursday.

House Bill 216 would grant workers' compensation benefits to firefighters who have been diagnosed with fire service-related cancers. Firefighters applying for the benefit would have to demonstrate exposure to a known carcinogen as a result of their occupation. Otherwise, state law considers cancer an "ordinary disease of life," disqualifying it from claims.

The Senate originally wanted to set a higher standard of proof, essentially that there had to be “clear and convincing” evidence for a claim. That requirement appeased local governments worried about how the potential new mandate would drive up costs. But firefighters themselves have said it’s too high a standard of proof, especially since other states use lower standards related to work-related cancer claims.

State Sen. John Albers, R-Roswell, who is a firefighter himself, led the charge on the floor to lower the claims standard to "a preponderance" of evidence. That proposal won, after an hour of debate.

Firefighters say they are exposed to carcinogens through the burning of newer materials used in the construction of homes, such as synthetic fibers and plastic.

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