Firefighters are among the bravest that our society has to offer. This was perhaps no better explained by anyone other than comedian and activist Jon Stewart, who testified before Congress on June 11, 2019, in an effort to secure additional federal funding for the September 11th Victims Compensation Fund. The fund provides money to aid those first responders in the 9/11 attacks and those workers who assisted in the recovery effort who now suffer serious health issues including lung impairments and various cancers.
The immediate risks for these heroic individuals as they boldly enter an active fire are clear to us all. What many do not understand, however, is that firefighters face long-term health risks well-after their days of active duty are done. A study of nearly 30,000 firefighters from across the country conducted by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health found that firefighters had a significantly higher rate of cancer diagnoses and cancer-related deaths than the general population. The study found that firefighters faced a greater chance of developing digestive, oral, respiratory and urinary cancers likely as a result of the exposure to asbestos and other carcinogenic substances while performing their jobs.
In what it rightfully deems as being a matter of important state interest, the Florida Legislature recently enacted Florida Statute 112.1816 which aims to provide a range of healthcare and disability benefits to firefighters diagnosed with cancer and death benefits to their designated beneficiaries– if the firefighter dies as a result of cancer or cancer treatments. These benefits are provided as an alternative to pursuing worker’s compensation benefits under Chapter 440 of the Florida Statutes. Some of the benefits to be provided by the statute, provided the affected firefighter meets the statutory criteria, include cancer treatment covered within an employer-sponsored health plan or through a group health insurance trust fund, and a one-time cash payout of $25,000.00 upon the firefighter’s initial diagnosis of cancer.
“We think that the State of Florida is absolutely doing the right thing in recognizing the increased health risks posed to firefighters and offering them assistance in their time of need, as those very brave men and women have offered their assistance to all citizens during their times of need,” said Deerfield Beach personal Injury attorney Kenneth Cutler. “It is a truly sad reality that after fighting fires for many years, a great deal of these heroes will now have to fight cancer. The treatments are of course expensive and can, much like the disease itself, decimate the very person they are intended to help or their family. While more can certainly be done, and it will never be enough, we applaud this measure taken by the Florida Government as a step in the right direction.
Any time a new law is enacted that may impact one’s rights or benefits, we encourage those potentially affected to fully investigate the new law’s reach and breadth. We do not yet know how this law will truly be interpreted and implemented and strongly suggest that all firefighters, both active and retired, monitor the situation carefully and speak with their department’s human resource offices, benefits administrators and department heads. A summary of the potential issues raised by the new statute can be found here. If you or a loved one believes that their firefighter retirement or health benefits have been wrongfully denied, contact the trial attorneys of Cutler Rader for a free consultation today.