Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett signed House Bill No. 797 into law Thursday, July 7, amending the Workers' Compensation Act (“WCA”) to include coverage to firefighters suffering from a cancer caused by exposure to certain known carcinogens. Notably, these new provisions allow firefighters who have retired in the past 300 weeks (approximately 5.7 years) to apply for compensation benefits and receive a presumption of work relatedness for these types of cancers.

This legislation, effective immediately, provides a “work-related” presumption for cancers caused by the Group 1 carcinogens. Compensation available under this new provision is available to those firefighters (1) who have served four or more years in continuous firefighting duties, (2) who can establish direct exposure to a Group 1 carcinogen, and (3) who passed a physical exam prior to asserting a claim, or prior to engaging in firefighting, and the exam failed to reveal any evidence of cancer. Those claims brought by volunteers must be based on evidence of direct exposure to a Group 1 carcinogen as documented by reports filed pursuant to the PennFIRS Reporting System.

Significantly, the employer may rebut the “work-related” presumption with “substantial competent evidence” that shows the firefighter’s cancer was not caused by the occupation of firefighting.

House Bill No. 797 also provides for a lengthy accrual period for potential claims The legislation allows a claim on the basis of cancer as defined to be made within 600 weeks after the last date of employment to which a claimant was exposed to the hazards of the disease (compared with the 300-week limitation for other “occupational diseases” defined in the WCA). However, the “work-related” presumption only applies to claims made within the first 300 weeks.

The full text of the legislation may be found here.