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The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania ruled Wednesday that a veteran firefighter’s workers compensation cancer claim was timely, filed 10 years after he retired, and that the municipality he worked for applied the wrong time frame for denying his claim.
Michael Sevanick was a firefighter for the City of Johnstown for 19 years and after retiring from the fire department in 2006. In 2015, he was diagnosed with kidney cancer and in 2016 filed a claim for workers compensation benefits, alleging that his cancer was caused by exposure to a carcinogen during his time as a firefighter, according to documents in City of Johnstown v. Workers' Compensation Appeal Board, filed in Harrisburg.
A state workers compensation judge ruled in Mr. Sevanick’s favor. On appeal before the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board, Johnstown argued that Mr. Sevanick’s claim was barred by state law that called for him to file within 300 weeks of retirement — which the board ruled was misapplied and that correct section of state law called for a 600-week window to file a cancer claim.
The argument rose out of ambiguity in the state law over last exposure to a carcinogen — the city claimed he had to report exposure within 300 weeks of leaving his job while the board and the board reasoned that a subsequent section in state law “creates a new timeframe for cancer-related occupational disease claims made by firefighters. Because (Mr.) Sevanick raised his claim well within 600 weeks from his last date of employment as a firefighter, the Board concluded that the claim was timely.”
On further appeal, “since there was no dispute that (Mr.) Sevanick filed his claim 490 weeks after his last date of employment,” a Commonwealth Court found the petition timely. The state’s highest court agreed, writing that the limitation period argued in the city’s appeal “has no application to the firefighter’s claim.”
Connecticut lawmakers have passed legislation to form a task force to study cancer relief benefits for firefighters.