It’s a hot topic that is the focus of many attorney commercials and frequently makes news headlines across the state. They’re called firefighter cancer claims, and they can have significant financial impact for victims, attorneys and employers.

Earlier this year, state legislators amended the Ohio workers’ compensation law to allow current and retired firefighters suffering from various cancers to collect compensation benefits under certain circumstances. But there are exceptions to the rule, and municipalities, villages, townships and other employers of paid or volunteer firefighters should understand how the amendment affects them.

To be eligible for benefits, a firefighter must have been:

  • Working hazardous duty for at least six years. Defined as “duty performed under circumstances in which an accident could result in serious injury or death.”
  • Exposed to a known carcinogen while on duty.
  • Diagnosed with cancer by an appropriate medical provider.
  • First diagnosed, first received treatment, or first quit working due to the cancer on or after April 6, 2017.

The following circumstances can lead to the denial of benefits:

  • The firefighter is 70 years old or older.
  • The firefighter has not worked in the profession for more than 20 years.
  • The firefighter used or was exposed to cigarettes, tobacco products, or other conditions that would increase his/her risk of cancer.
  • The firefighter was not exposed to known and specific carcinogens.
  • The firefighter developed cancer before becoming a firefighter.

If the employer disputes the firefighter’s claim, the firefighter must prove that being
exposed to cancer-causing agents while working hazardous duty as a firefighter caused the diagnosis of cancer. Yet, a cancer diagnosis is not enough to prove a work-related claim. The employer may seek to demonstrate that non-work-related factors caused the firefighter’s cancer thereby resulting in the denial of the claim.

Employers should be cautious and use due diligence before certifying a firefighter cancer claim. If you have questions regarding cancer claims, contact Walter | Haverfield to determine whether it is causally related to the firefighter’s exposure to known and specific carcinogens while working hazardous duty for at least six years.

Margaret O’Bryon is an attorney at Walter | Haverfield who concentrates on workers’ compensation law as well as public and employment law. She can be reached at 440-652-1173 or