In recent years there have been a lot of new laws and rulings that have come out to protect workers. What happens when a worker, whose injury occurred before these statutes took place, decides to seek benefits for their injury?
One firefighter in New Mexico answered this for himself, maybe this outcome will now apply to other workers in a similar predicament.
Frank Di Luzio had worked as a firefighter for the City of Santa Fe since 1979 and stopped working in 2000. In all those years, he claimed he actively fought fires or at least was present at a fire twice a week. He worked as a supervisor at the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department (CYFD) after he left firefighting and was diagnosed with mantle cell non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2012. He started to work fewer hours and worked at a lower position than his former supervisor status. He finally left that job in 2013 because he could not continue to work with his illness. When he was diagnosed, he filed for benefits because he said he met the requirements of having worked as a firefighter more than 15 years and Hodgkin’s lymphoma is an identified disease in the Occupational Disease statute. He was granted total disability benefits, which the city (his employer) appealed. The employer said that this was a retroactive application of the Firefighter Occupational Disease Disablement statute, because it only became effective in 2010 and he worked until 2000. They also claimed that he had not been able to prove that his lymphoma was caused by firefighting.
The court said that the Firefighter Occupational Disease Statute has a clause that deems firefighters who meet certain qualifications may not have to prove that their disease was caused by their occupation. One such qualification is “years of service”; if a firefighter has been working more than 15 years it would be near impossible to know which substances they encountered at each specific fire, and the amounts of exposure for what length of time. The courts determined that the worker met his years of service requirement and therefore was not required to prove the specifics of how his disease came about.
And since his jobs following firefighting were definitely not the cause of lymphoma, there was even more evidence that his benefits were due from the city. The courts said they did not retroactively apply the standard because though he stopped that job in 2000, he was not diagnosed until 2012, at which point he filed for benefits. The statute was enacted in 2010. Further, the court said that his total disability payments were not enough because they were calculated based on 2000 wages. Since he was disabled in 2012, his payments were adjusted to reflect higher average weekly wages.