Firefighters have a dangerous job. They run into danger when most others run the other way. They face exposure to extreme heat, toxic chemicals, smoke and dangerous fires.
Firefighters have, according to the Firefighter Cancer Support Network, a 14 percent higher chance of dying from cancer than the general population. A recent study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also shows that firefighters are a higher risk of digestive, oral, respiratory and urinary system cancers.
Maryland law is clear that a presumption exists that certain conditions are inexorably linked to certain professions. Among these is a link between firefighters and lung disease (and some types of cancer, including leukemia, pancreatic, prostate, rectal, or throat cancers).
Firefighters in Maryland who develop one of these named occupational conditions are presumptively covered under the state’s Workers’ Compensation benefits. This means that they generally won’t need to directly prove that their condition is causally linked to their work, and that they will still be eligible for benefits even without such proof. The same holds true whether the conditions developed during active duty or during retirement.
These presumptions are codified in Maryland Labor and Employment Code Section 9-503. Countless firefighters — paid and volunteer alike — who have dutifully served are eligible for Workers’ Compensation benefits because of the protections offered by this statute.
In spite of the presumptions, however, there have been successful challenges to an award of benefits to ailing firefighters. The fact that benefit awards have been denied in the past truly shines a light on how important it is that firefighters work with an attorney when seeking Workers’ Compensation benefits.