Under Georgia's workers' compensation laws, those who are "injured" on the job have a right to pursue certain benefits through their employer's workers' compensation insurance carrier. In fact, the State of Georgia even refers to workers' compensation as an "accident insurance program" in literature designed to educate workers about their rights.
So, what exactly is an "injury?" What is an accident? Under current law, an injury for the purposes of Georgia workers' compensation law generally "means only injury by accident." However, occupational diseases may also be covered, if an employee can show a direct causal connection between the conditions of his or her employment and the disease, and, importantly, if the disease is not an "ordinary disease of life" to which the general public is exposed.
For heart diseases, such as heart attack and stroke, the current statute requires an employee to provide medical evidence that such a condition was attributable to the performance of his or her usual work in order to receive workers' compensation benefits. The statute makes no specific mention of work-related cancer. However, this could change with regard to certain employees, if a bill currently pending in the Georgia House of Representatives becomes law.
Purpose of the Bill
Several Georgia lawmakers have joined together to sponsor HB-152, which would amend O.C.G.A. § 34-9-280 to allow a firefighter to pursue workers' compensation benefits for the "ordinary disease of life of cancer." The bill provides for coverage of several specific types of cancer, including bladder, blood, brain, breast, cervical, esophageal, intestinal, kidney, lymphatic, lung, prostate, rectal, respiratory tract, skin, testicular, and thyroid cancer, as well as leukemia, multiple myeloma, and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
The bill would further amend the current statute to provide that, for a firefighter who has served five consecutive years, the disease of cancer may be compensable if the employee can show, by a preponderance of competent and credible evidence, that the disease was attributable to his or her performance of duties as a firefighter.
Is the Bill a Good Idea?
For firefighters, the bill could provide a way to recover workers' compensation benefits when it would have been very difficult to do so under the previous law. This could be helpful because, as proponents of the bill point out, those who are employed as firefighters have a higher rate of certain cancers than does the general population. Proponents also say that this is likely attributable to chemicals to which firefighters are exposed on the job (including synthetics used in home building, diesel exhaust from firetrucks, and specific hazards of individual fires).
Those who oppose the bill do so on one of two general grounds. Some believe that the bill could increase costs for cities and counties that employ firefighters, placing an unfair burden on these particular employers. Others believe that it is unfair to single out firefighters because there are many other workers who may be exposed to hazards in the workplace that could cause cancer.
Have You Been Hurt?
Atlanta workers' compensation attorney T. Andrew Miller works hard to stay abreast of developments in the area of workers' compensation law, and he will continue to monitor this bill and others currently pending before the Georgia Legislature. If you have a specific question about your workers' compensation claim, call us for a free appointment at (678) 894-4758. We also handle car accident claims, wrongful death lawsuits, and other personal injury cases.