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An Arizona firefighter with leukemia will have another attempt to obtain workers compensation for his purported occupational disease, the Arizona Supreme Court held Thursday.
In Aguirre v. The Industrial Commission, a five-judge panel of the state’s high court set aside an administrative law judge’s decision after holding that the administrative judge made no findings on material issues in the case — such as whether the firefighter was exposed to a known carcinogen reasonably related to his leukemia — or resolve conflicting opinions of medical experts.
Gilbert Aguirre began working for the City of Goodyear as a firefighter in August 2007, and had responded to fires that exposed him to paints, thinners and lacquers, burning jet fuel, chlorine and methamphetamine. In May 2015, he was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia and filed a workers compensation claim alleging that his leukemia was caused by toxic chemicals he had been exposed to as a firefighter.
After his claim was denied, Mr. Aguirre requested a hearing with the Industrial Commission of Arizona, arguing that under the state’s presumption statute, a firefighter diagnosed with his type of leukemia, among other cancers, is entitled to the presumption that he is suffering from a compensable occupational disease after showing no pre-employment evidence of cancer, at least five years of hazardous duty work and exposure to known carcinogens reasonably related to the cancer.
An administrative law judge denied his claim, finding that Mr. Aguirre failed to carry his burden of proving by a “preponderance of the evidence that he sustained a work-related injury.”
He requested an administrative review, but did not specifically challenge the ALJ’s failure to make material findings. The ALJ affirmed the award.
An Arizona appellate court set aside the award based on “the absence of legally-sufficient findings” and the Supreme Court of Arizona granted review of the case, holding that the administrative law judge made no findings regarding the material issues in the case, but “merely stated the ultimate conclusion that he evidence did not establish” that Mr. Aguirre had a new condition necessary to reopen his claim.
The court found that the administrative judge’s decision neither resolved whether Mr. Aguirre was exposed to a known carcinogen or that it was reasonably related to his leukemia, and also failed to resolve conflicting opinions of medical experts.
Attorneys in the case did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The Florida Senate passed legislation 38-0 Tuesday that would provide benefits to firefighters upon the diagnosis of certain cancers.