Interesting law suit going on across the border specific to presumption. In the U.S. all State workers compensation systems determine claims based on an adversarial system meaning the burden of proof is on the worker, yet most States enacted laws providing presumptive status for firefighters and extended presumptive status to other first responders, prison guards and nurses. Obviously this is discrimination when certain individuals are treat differently than other individuals and the Federal Government is now fighting the State Government. Presumptive status has opened up a can of worms all throughout North America. Question is, how can a State provide presumptive status to firefighters, first responders, prison guards and nurses and not provide presumptive status for workers employed at a nuclear weapons facility who would have far higher the risk of cancers than any firefighter.
In Canada, we are supposed to adjudicate claims based on an inquiry system where the burden of proof is on the “Board”. The “Board” must not only determine if there were hazards in the work place, they must also prove that a worker was exposed to a hazard outside of the workplace and the time and place that the worker was exposed to the hazard. Because a worker always receives the benefit of doubt and if WCB cannot prove contrary, the claim must be accepted.
Rather than providing special treatment for firefighters, first responders and continuing to add mote workers to the list of preferential treatment, why not simply enact legislation giving all workers presumptive status and force the “Board” to prove an injury or disease happened outside of the workplace which would make more sense than to having workers having the burden of proof without the medical and financial ability to provide evidence to support their claims.
DOL Files Suit Against Benefits For Ill Hanford Workers; State Considers Amending Law
- Liz Carey
Hanford, WA (WorkersCompensation.com) – The federal government is worried that a new law in Washington state would give workers at the Hanford nuclear reservation easier access to workers’ compensation than other employees in that state. Meanwhile, state legislators are contemplating an amendment to the law that could increase the number of workers eligible for benefits.
Last week, the Department of Justice laid out its case against the new state law, claiming that the 100,000 past and current workers at the nuclear weapons facility would have an easier time getting workers’ compensation, at a much greater cost to tax payers.
As previously reported in WorkersCompensation.com, the law, passed last year, makes the presumption that exposure to chemicals at Hanford caused illnesses in the employees there, up to and including cancer.
Hanford is considered one of the “most radioactive waste sites” in America covering 200 square miles of contaminated groundwater and including 53 million gallons of liquid waste, 25 million cubic feet of solid waste. The site was a facility for enriching plutonium during World War II and the Cold War, and is where more than 60,000 nuclear warheads were made. The facility closed in 1987.
The Department of Energy, which is responsible for the country’s nuclear facilities, is a self-insured entity and has contracts to cover six current contractors and seven subcontractors that employ workers at Hanford, as well as 61 former Hanford contractors and subcontractors, with workers’ compensation benefits.
The new law would increase the illnesses covered and could be so loosely defined that workers could be compensated for common illnesses, according to the federal government’s documents. The new law could be interpreted to cover illnesses like asthma, chronic bronchitis, Parkinson‘s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and strokes, the DOJ said.
For other workers in the state, a clear link between the illness and their work would have to be shown. Under the new law, work at the nuclear facility would be presumed to be the cause.
Also, the new law allows for claims that had been denied to be reviewed under the new and easier requirements.
The government did not object as the state legislature debated the law which went into effect in June 2018. But in December, the federal government asked a judge to overturn the law as a violation of the Supremacy Clause of the US Constitution – which prohibits states from regulating the federal government.
In its initial suit, the federal government also said the law puts the burden on the federal government to prove that the workers’ illnesses were NOT caused by their work at Hanford, and that the law discriminates against the federal government.
In filings on Friday, March 1, the federal government asked Judge Stanley Bastian to rule on the case prior to its going to trial. The state of Washington is expected to answer the suit and ask that the federal government’s claim be dismissed by March 22.
According to the lawsuit, prior to the law taking effect, the DOE received 5 or fewer claims per year for cancer, court documents said. Since the law took effect, the DOE has received 50 claims for cancer. The department said that 92 claims had been filed under the new law, and most of them would have been denied prior to the new law.
Penser North America, the administrator for the DOE’s workers’ compensation program, said it had referred 41 claims to the state’s Department of Labor and Industries. Of those, 31 were recommended for approval, while 10 were not. Of those 10, eight were approved by the DLI, Penser said in the court filings.
While the DOE can object to those cases, the level of proof to deny them was high, Penser said in court documents.
“DOE must obtain expert witnesses at a significant cost, and must search for, review and organize large volumes of medical documentation,” it said.
Advocates for nuclear workers said the government’s case may not apply
“The suggestion that the supremacy clause of the constitution should prevent the implementation of this program is certainly suspect as the federal government has chosen to employ private contractors at these facilities,” said R. Hugh Stephens, an attorney who specializes in workers’ compensation for former federal employees who worked at nuclear facilities. “These are not typically federal employees and federal employees are not qualified for this compensation, if I am not mistaken, but must apply for federal workers compensation through the US Department of Labor (DOL).”
Stephens also told WorkersCompensation.com he objected to the government’s burden of proof.
“While the government would suggest that its burden is too great, it is useful to remember that many of these workers were exposed to radiation and other hazardous substances without their knowledge or consent,” he said. “This is an ultra-hazardous activity to which different rules should apply. Most of these workers did not become injured after lifting a heavy box or lose their hearing because they were posted near a loud machine. These workers cannot breath because of exposure to beryllium (a dangerous metal), or have cancer caused by exposure to radiation, and those with hearing loss suffer from nerve damage due to exposure to toxic solvents. The shoe is certainly now on the other foot as workers used to struggle to prove their claims in the face of records lost by the DOE or its contractors.”
According to the DOE, if the judge ruled in its favor, sick workers and their survivors would be covered by the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Act (EEOICA) program administered by the US Department of Labor.
Stephens, whose clients fight sometimes years to get compensation through the program, said the government’s record should discourage a judge from ruling in the DOE’s favor.
“There is a long history of the DOE opposing rightful claims by hard working residents of Washington State. These issues are described at length in the EEOICA. While the Washington State legislature appears to have the upper hand in this dispute with Washington, DC, the federal government and its history of poor treatment of these workers severely undermine its position in this dispute.”
Legislation being considered in the state legislature would modify the law. “The presumption established for cancer is amended to also apply to any active or former USDOE Hanford site worker who has cancer that develops or manifests itself and who was not given a qualifying medical examination because a qualifying medical examination was not required,” stated an analysis of HB 1490. The bill was passed in the state House and is now before the Senate Labor & Commerce Committee.