One of the common themes on this blog is that workers’ compensation and injury benefits are often tough to come by, even when you have an experienced lawyer by your side. And as we’ve seen in the meat-packing industry, getting compensation gets even harder when you’re trying to prove a connection between an illness like COVID-19 and your on-the-job exposure. In most instances, there’s a very high hurdle to clear in order to prove that an illness or health condition was contracted in the work environment.
However, a first-of-its-kind ruling may make it easier for certain public safety officers and their families to collect benefits if the worker develops cancer and their job put them at a heightened risk for the condition.
Cancer And Dependent Benefits
We recently learned about the case of St. Paul Fire Captain Mike Paider, who unfortunately succumbed to a form of cancer known as acute myeloid leukemia. Paider had been a firefighter since 2011, and according to the statistics, had been involved in 1,350 fire incidents, 1,600 fire runs and 4,800 emergency medical service calls. Studies have found that firefighters are at a greater risk of cancer due to carcinogens they are exposed to in their line of work, but that doesn’t mean that all former firefighters and their families are eligible to collect public safety officer death benefits if they die due to cancer. In fact, such a ruling had never been made in Minnesota, until Minnesota Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington ruled that Paider’s death was linked to his work, making his family eligible for benefits.
As the law is currently written, in order for a family to collect death benefits for a public safety officer, the death needs to occur in the course or scope of duties, and historically that has not included death from cancer. Aside from the studies that show a link in the increased risk for cancer among firefighters, Paider’s family still had to put forth numerous pieces of evidence to support their claim, including:
- Medical records that showed no health concerns from 2011 to 2020.
- Paider’s physician’s report stated that given his young age and “otherwise excellent health,” it was “more likely than not that his occupational exposure led to his development of leukemia.”
In his ruling, Harrington acknowledged that danger to public safety officers isn’t always immediate.
“Having been in law enforcement for nearly 40 years, I understand the dangers facing public safety officers each day,” Harrington wrote to Paider’s wife Julie. “And it appears that in your husband’s case, the danger was not solely an immediate one. As such, I believe his death falls within the definition of ‘killed in the line of duty.’”
In 2020, the Minnesota public safety officer death benefit was nearly $167,000, with additional benefits possible if children of the deceased pursue in-state higher education. However, the biggest takeaway from the ruling was that it could make it easier for other families who have lost loved ones due to cancer or other health conditions that were likely caused in part by their job duties. Seems fitting for a man who put his life on the line for others. Even in death, he’ll be helping families out of an unimaginable situation.
If you or someone you know has lost a loved one to cancer or another health related condition that may have been caused by their work environment or job duties, reach out to an experienced law firm to see if you’re entitled to benefits. For more information, contact the firm at Hey Workers today at (844) 439-9675.