by Jennifer M. Smith, Esq.

After Governor Deal vetoed a similar bill last year, firefighters in Georgia vowed to renew efforts for legislation allowing firefighters to more easily obtain workers’ compensation benefits for occupational diseases such as cancer, an “ordinary disease of life” and therefore HB 152 was proposed to presume cancer coverage for firefighters under workers’ compensation. However, last week the House of Representatives passed a different bill, HB 146, which would require cities and counties to carry guaranteed funded cancer coverage for firefighters, thereby eliminating the need for firefighters to make a workers’ compensation claim and demonstrate their cancer was work related. If passed by the Senate, the new bill would provide that lump sum payments are issued upon the firefighter’s diagnosis and monthly payments for up to 36 months if the firefighter is unable to work. The bill was apparently a compromise, as firefighters preferred legislation presuming that cancer diagnoses were work related, but employers/insurers were concerned the workers’ compensation bill would have opened the door for future proposals to cover all workers for additional diseases of life. The proposed HB 152 should alleviate this concern if it passes.

Last year, HB 216, a similar bill which presumed coverage under workers’ compensation passed in both the House and Senate. Governor Deal vetoed the bill, reasoning in part that the bill was too broad because it did not limit the types of cancer covered. He also expressed concern that codifying an exception for one occupation with a “relatively low standard of proof” was too broad a solution to the problem. Lawmakers worked to resolve these concerns with the compromise HB 152.

Under current Georgia workers’ compensation law, ordinary diseases of life are not compensable because they are typically caused by non-work related factors such as genetics, aging and lifestyle. An employee making an occupational disease claim, such as cancer, has the burden to prove not only that the occupational disease arose out of and in the course of their employment, but also prove (1) a direct causal connection between the conditions under which the work was performed and the disease; (2) that the disease followed as a natural incident of exposure at work; (3) the employee was not substantially exposed to conditions outside of work which may have led to the disease; (4) that the disease is not an ordinary disease of life to which the general public is exposed; and (5) that the disease must appear to have had its origin in a risk connected with the employment.

We will continue to report on the outcome of this proposed legislation.

To view HB 152, click here.