PROPOSED LEGISLATION SEEKS TO STRENGTHEN WORK COMP PRESUMPTION FOR FIRST RESPONDERS

January 25, 2022

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Brent Eames

Section 6(f) of the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act is intended to provide some special and unique benefits for firefighters and EMTs who suffer certain injuries and illnesses. Unfortunately, ambiguity in the language of the statute has resulted in the Illinois courts negating any real benefit for first responders and has essentially defeated the intended presumption which was provided in the law. Keep reading to learn more from workers’ compensation attorney for firefightersBrent Eames, about a recent bill proposed in the legislature which would seek to cure this ambiguity.

Section 6(f) of the Act is supposed to provide an easier path to benefits for firefighters and EMTs who suffer injuries or illnesses resulting from exposure to MRSA; lung or respiratory diseases; heart or vascular diseases; hypertension; tuberculosis; cancer; hearing loss; or hernias. Specifically, Section 6(f) provides a presumption that these conditions resulting in any disability (temporary, permanent, total, or partial) to the employee shall be rebuttably presumed to arise out of and in the course of the employee’s firefighting, EMT, or paramedic employment and, further, shall be rebuttably presumed to be causally connected to the hazards or exposures of the employment. When this legislation was passed, it seemed clear that the legislature intended to make the recovery of associated benefits easier given the known and well-documented risks of these injuries and illnesses associated with the professions of firefighting and paramedic work. Unfortunately, the legislature neglected to confirm exactly what type of “presumption” was afforded to first responders in these situations, which ultimately resulted in the courts negating much, if not all, of the benefit of the 6(f) presumption.

After review of the legislative history, the Appellate Court held that the §6(f) presumption is not a “strong” rebuttable presumption, which would require clear and convincing evidence to rebut.  Rather, it is an “ordinary” rebuttable presumption, requiring only that the employer offer some evidence sufficient to support a finding that something other than claimant’s occupation caused his condition.” Once some evidence of another potential cause of the claimant’s condition is introduced, the presumption ceases to exist and the Commission is free to determine the factual question based on the evidence before it, without consideration to the presumption.  It is not necessary that an employer eliminate any occupational exposure as a possible contributing cause in order to defeat the 6(f) presumption. As a result, it is extremely easy for an employer to defeat this legislative presumption, rendering the presumption relatively meaningless. However, proposed legislation seeks to remedy this issue.

HB4630 was introduced by Representative Jay Hoffman on January 21, 2022. The bill provides:

that the rebuttable presumption concerning specified conditions or impairments of health of an employee employed as a firefighter, emergency medical technician, emergency medical technician-intermediate, advanced emergency medical technician, or paramedic is intended to shift the burden of proof to the employing entity and any party attacking the presumption must establish by clear and convincing evidence an independent and non-work related cause for the condition or disability and prove that no aspect of the employment contributed to the condition. Provides that the rebuttable presumption relating to hearing loss cannot be overcome with evidence allegedly showing that the injured employee did not meet specified exposure thresholds.

By attempting to spell out that the presumption is intended to require clear and convincing evidence to rebut, as opposed to an ordinary presumption requiring only some evidence, the presumption provided in 6(f) would once again carry some actual legal weight in serving its purpose to provide this unique benefit for firefighters and paramedics.

Firefighter attorney Brent Eames is experienced in representing injured firefighters and EMTs across the state in work-related claims. We will continue to track this important legislation as more details from Springfield become available.

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The content of this blog is intended for informational purposes only and does constitute or establish an attorney-client relationship, nor constitute legal advice. If you wish to discuss any further aspect of the material contained herein, please contact attorney for first responders, Brent Eames, at Eames Law Group, Ltd.

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