The Appellate Court recently issued a decision that clarifies how to apply the rebuttable presumptions referred to in section 6(f) of the Illinois WC Act, when firefighters and various medical professionals are diagnosed with hernias, hearing loss, or “any bloodborne pathogen, lung or respiratory disease or condition, heart or vascular disease or condition, hypertension, tuberculosis, or cancer.”
In Johnston v. Illinois Workers’ Comp. Comm’n, 2017 IL App (2d) 160010WC, which is still subject to revision or withdrawal, the Court analyzed a case involving a firefighter who had suffered a heart attack. The Court goes into significant detail to address the section 6(f), which states that there is a rebuttable presumption that the above conditions arise out of and in the course of the claimant’s employment if they work as a firefighter or in one of several medical professions, including paramedics.
The Appellate Court examined the nature of this rebuttable presumption and how exactly to interpret and apply that presumption. The Court even reviewed the legislative history, legislative debate, and the statements of the bill’s sponsor, Representative Hoffman, who said, “So what this does is if you have it you could bring your action, it doesn’t mean you’re going to get compensated, it doesn’t mean you’re going to win, it doesn’t mean that you have proven beyond any doubt or conclusively that this happened on the job, it only means that the employer can then come in and bring contrary evidence as to whether or not it happened on the job.” (emphasis added by the Court) 95th Ill. Gen. Assem., House Proceedings, Apr. 27, 2007, at 68-69 (statements of Representative Hoffman).
The Court further quoted the bill sponsor as saying, “[s]o don’t think it’s conclusive that simply because you have lung cancer, you’re going to get compensation of the Worker’s Compensation Act. What we’re saying is, we’ll get you to the hearing. Then the other side can bring in evidence that you smoked for thirty (30) years and therefore, it wasn’t a result of the actions taken at work.” Id. at 82.
The Appellate Court then ruled that, “Based on the above legislative history, we find that section 6(f) does not involve a strong rebuttable presumption, requiring clear and convincing evidence. Rather, we conclude that the legislature intended an ordinary rebuttable presumption to apply, simply requiring the employer to offer some evidence sufficient to support a finding that something other than claimant’s occupation as a firefighter caused his condition.” Johnston v. Illinois Workers’ Comp. Comm’n, 2017 IL App (2d) 160010WC, ¶ 45 (emphasis added).
In this case, the petitioner was an obese smoker, mildly diabetic, and with a family history of heart disease. Accordingly, the presumption was rebutted, though the Court did note that if the employer is successful in rebutting the section 6(f) presumption, at that point “the claimant may, if the evidence supports it, assert that his occupational exposure was a cause of his condition of ill-being, along the lines of Sisbro, thus entitling him to an award of benefits.” Id. at ¶ 51.
In this case, the Court also further specifically found that the petitioner failed to prove that he suffered a work accident that arose out of his employment, and that claimant failed to establish that a medical causal connection existed between his occupational exposure and coronary artery disease.
This case is a notable development in specifying the parameters for a section 6(f) rebuttable presumption, and also crucially outlines for Respondents how they can successfully rebut the presumption when 6(f) applies. Stay tuned to the I&F blog for more updates on developments in workers’ compensation law affecting firefighters and paramedics.
Thanks to attorney Michael Bantz for the summary of this very important case. Michael works out of the Champaign office of Inman and Fitzgibbons and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.