by Jennifer M. Smith, Esq.

Also in legislative news, the House of Representatives introduced a bill which would provide a “rebuttable presumption” that occupational diseases (hypertension, heart disease, respiratory disease and sometimes cancer) contracted by firefighters are caused by their work. This places the burden on employers and insurers to prove that the job was not the cause of the condition. This bill (HB 216) is identical to a Senate proposed bill (SB 29) which remains in the Senate Insurance and Labor Committee. Both the Senate version, known as the Georgia Firefighter Presumptive Bill (also known as the Gibson-Stevenson Act), and the House Bill only address firefighters, but many supporters of these bills would like to eventually include police officers and EMS workers, according to a recent report by CBS-46 News. Passage could also indicate future proposals covering all workers, including those in the private sector.

Under current Georgia law, an employee making an occupational disease claim 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. The proposed bills by the House and Senate reverse this burden and place it on the employer and insurer rather than the worker.