New law radiates from firefighter’s presumption

Casondra J. Albrecht

On March 7, 2018, Washington Governor Jay Inslee signed a new workers’ compensation bill into law, focusing on the Hanford Nuclear Reservation and plutonium. This law effectively shifts the burden of proof in any occupational disease claim filed by a Hanford worker. State legislatures occasionally carve out specific instances where causation of a condition—invariably an occupational disease—is presumed. A similar law exists in Washington for certain occupational disease claims filed by firefighters, under RCW 51.32.185.

This new law, House Bill 1723, creates a presumption of causation of an occupational disease for claimants who worked at least one eight hour shift at the Hanford nuclear site. This presumption applies to various conditions, including: respiratory disease; any heart problems experienced within seventy-two hours of exposure at the site; cancer; beryllium sensitization; and, neurological disease. The law goes into greater detail regarding the presumption as it applies to cancer. Basically, a worker must undergo a medical examination prior to employment that shows no evidence of cancer in order for the presumption to apply.

The presumption may be rebutted only by the high standard of clear and convincing evidence. Ordinarily, the preponderance of the evidence carries the day in Washington workers’ compensation cases. Further, this law (like the firefighter’s presumption) directs the Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals to order attorney and witness fees and costs in the event the Board’s final decision allows the claim for benefits. As a practical matter, claims filed under the new law will likely be adjudicated similarly to those filed by firefighters.

The attorneys at Reinisch Wilson Weier PC can help you untangle claims related to this or other occupational diseases.