Maryland Annotated Code, Labor and Employment (LE) Article, § 9-503 states that firefighters and police officers are given a presumption of compensability for certain occupational diseases if they contract heart disease or hypertension that results in "partial or total disability or death." Additionally, if a firefighter develops lung disease or certain specific cancers that results in partial or total disability, that firefighter is given a presumption of compensability that the disease was "suffered in the line of duty."
The presumption of compensability is important, as it allows firefighters and police to more easily receive the benefits and compensation they are entitled to after developing these specific occupational diseases.
Development of Disability After Retirement Does Not Bar Recovery
The Court of Special Appeals of Maryland stated in Montgomery County v. Pirrone that the statutory presumption of LE § 9-503 applies even if the disease manifests itself after the firefighter or police officer's retirement, although the further from retirement date heart problems develop the more difficult it may be to prove compensability. Quoting James v. General Motors Corp., the court stated that "it is the date of [the] last injurious exposure to the hazard of the disease, and not the date of disability[,] that governs." The Pirrone Court also stated that the claimant's occupation need only be a factor in order for the presumption to apply.
9-503's Presumption Is Rebuttable
The Court of Appeals of Maryland, in City of Frederick v. Shankle, stated that LE § 9-503 does not impose strict liability on an employer. Even a broad, employee-biased interpretation of the statute would not prevent the employer from presenting evidence and expert testimony that the disease contracted by the police officer or firefighter "did not result from his occupation ... if there is a factual basis for that conclusion."
The court stated that there may be situations where a firefighter or police officer may not have in fact developed the disease as a result of his or her work. For instance, if a police officer was on the job for only a short time, only held a desk job or other position that would be free from the stress of normal duties, or if there is evidence that the disease was developed prior to holding the position as a police officer, the employer can present these facts.
While the Shankle case involved a police officer developing heart disease, the decision is equally applicable to the other occupational diseases listed in LE § 9-503.
If you are a firefighter or police officer who has suffered an occupational disease as enumerated above, that disease may be presumed to have been caused by your employment as a firefighter or police officer. For questions relating to occupational diseases or to pursue your rights under LE § 9-503, contact an experienced Maryland workers' compensation attorney such as the attorneys at Cohen, Snyder, Eisenberg & Katzenberg, P.A.