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PA Supreme Court Clarifies Occupational Disease Evidentiary Standards

Philadelphia Workers' Compensation lawyers help those who have contracted an occupational disease.Every job has some room for error; but when it comes to certain occupations, the risk of related illnesses increases.

Due to a recent case in which a firefighter claimed that his cancer was related to exposure to carcinogens experienced on the job, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has now clarified the necessary evidentiary standards for claiming an occupational disease in a case for Workers’ Compensation.

City of Philadelphia Fire Department v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Sladek)

In City of Philadelphia Fire Department v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Sladek), the court found that a firefighter must only demonstrate that it is “possible” that a carcinogen caused the type of cancer in question. The claimant need not prove that such carcinogen “actually” caused the individual’s cancer.

In order to overcome what the Supreme Court believes “is not a heavy burden,” the claimant can present epidemiological evidence, which demonstrates potential associations.

Once the burden of proof has been met, it is then the job of the employer to demonstrate that a specific, unrelated cause is the reason for the employee’s cancer. It is not enough for an employer to put an expert on the stand to testify to the possibility that the cancer may be related to something else.

Standards to be Met

However, in order for a claimant to bring in epidemiological evidence, it must first be assessed so that it satisfies a specific standard, called the Frye standard of Rule 702 of the Pennsylvania Rules of Evidence, that demonstrates that the medical evidence is generally accepted by the medical community. Additionally, the expert must come to their conclusion by applying generally accepted scientific methodologies in coming to their conclusion.

If an employer can show through its own use of expert testimony that the claimant’s expert does not satisfy this standard, then the claimant will not be found to meet their burden, and the burden of proof never shifts to the employer. Instead, the claimant will simply not be able to recover Workers’ Compensation benefits for the occupational disease claim.

It is in the best interest of the employee to engage an expert who can meet this evidentiary standard, in order to prove that the employer is liable. If the burden does shift to the employer, it will face an extremely high burden of proof in order to refute the presumption that the worker suffered an occupational disease from their work.

Recognized Diseases

Some of the occupational diseases that are recognized under Pennsylvania’s Occupational Disease Act include:

  • Allergic conditions, skin infections, inflammation
  • Asbestosis
  • Benzene leukemia
  • Caisson disease (compressed air illness)
  • Mesothelioma
  • Pneumoconiosis (“black lung disease”)
  • Radium or radiation poisoning
  • Silicosis

Philadelphia Workers’ Compensation Lawyers of Gross & Kenny, LLP Help Those Who Have Contracted an Occupational Disease in the Workplace

If you or a loved one have developed an occupational disease or been otherwise injured at work, it is important to engage the knowledgeable and experienced Philadelphia workplace accident lawyers of Gross & Kenny, LLP to fight for your rights. From our Philadelphia offices, we work with individuals across Pennsylvania. For a free consultation, call 267-589-0090 or contact us online today.