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Proving Causation of Work-Related Cancers

Cancer affects much more than just a patient’s physical health. It also can have profound consequences for the sufferer’s financial wellbeing. One hopes that cancer victims always have the benefit of thorough insurance coverage, but that isn’t always the case. When cancer can be traced to a cause that was work-related, a patient can sometimes seek benefits under the workers’ compensation insurance policy of the employer responsible. For cancer to be covered by an employer’s workers’ compensation insurance the patient must be ready to prove that the disease arose “out of or in the course of employment.” For most types of injury the link between an injury and employment is established early in the process, usually at the first visit to a doctor. But unlike a broken arm suffered at a work site, cancer can be slow to develop and its cause may be difficult to trace. There are three threshold matters that the patient must establish (or be prepared to establish) to ensure that coverage will not be denied:
  1. Exposure to a carcinogen at work. Proving exposure to a carcinogenic material at work can be easier in some situations than in others. If the patient worked at a chemical plant and was routinely exposed to substances that are well known to cause cancer, the case will be relatively easy to build. But if the patient’s exposure was in an isolated event, where the presence of carcinogens wasn’t known, proving the link may be more difficult. The passage of time can complicate proof as well.
  2. A causal relationship between the carcinogen and the patient’s specific cancer type. The patient’s doctor can help draw a connection between the work-related exposure to a carcinogen and the patient’s cancer. If a dispute arises with the workers’ compensation insurance provider, additional expert testimony and other scientific evidence might be required to prove causation.
  3. No intervening cause. Although a patient doesn’t need to prove that his or her cancer didn’t come from a source other than work, the insurer will almost certainly argue that it might have. This has been the insurer’s argument in cases involving secondhand smoke exposure at casinos. Because casino workers can be exposed to cigarette smoke other than at work, insurers have successfully denied coverage for their lung cancers.
Another potential problem for slow-developing cancers can be employers who have since gone out of business. Patients in this situation shouldn’t entirely give up hope. Even though the business may no longer exist under its old name, it may still exist under another, been merged with another business, or been bought out. A crucial question will be whether the current legal entity that owns the business has responsibility for lingering obligations to former employees. Nevada provides a special benefit for firefighters who contract cancer, even after retirement. NRS 617.453 can simplify the process of seeking benefits for firefighters who are exposed to carcinogens during their careers. The law provides a specific list of carcinogens and their known related cancer types. Provided the firefighter can show exposure to a carcinogen that the statutory list links to the firefighter’s cancer, there will be a presumption that the cancer is work-related. For over 45 years the law firm of Greenman Goldberg Raby Martinez has served clients with challenging workers’ compensation cases. If you think your cancer may be work-related but you aren’t sure how to go about making a claim against your employer, please reach out to us today for a free attorney consultation. Call us at 702-388-4476 or send us a request through our site.