On August 9, 2023, the Court of Appeals of Oregon, in City of Salem v. Stadeli, for the first time, reviewed the standard that should be applied when employers seek to rebut the workers compensation (WC) presumption in Oregon statute 656.802 that a firefighter’s contraction of certain diseases, including mouth and throat cancer, are occupational diseases caused by the firefighter’s employment.
In this case, a firefighter was denied WC benefits by his employer after receiving a diagnosis of tonsillar cancer. At a hearing, medical experts testified that HPV, which the firefighter tested positive for, was the most significant cause of tonsillar cancer. However, the experts could not definitively say that firefighting shared no connection to that type of cancer. The Workers’ Compensation Board reversed the employer’s denial of benefits, finding that the record presented did not meet the employer’s burden to overcome the presumption.
On review, the Court of Appeals analyzed Oregon statute 656.802, which provides that an employer can deny a claim and rebut the presumption that work was the major contributing cause of a firefighter’s cancer, only on the basis of clear and convincing medical evidence that the condition or impairment was not caused or contributed to “in material part” by the firefighter’s employment. The court said that the phrase “in material part” refers to a fact of consequence, without regard to the amount of causation or contribution beyond being a fact of consequence. In other words, it may not be the primary cause, but it is nonetheless a cause for the need for medical treatment. Thus, the court held that rebutting the presumption requires clear and convincing medical evidence that the firefighter’s employment was not a fact of consequence of any amount in causing or contributing to the cancer.
The court affirmed the Board’s decision concluding that it correctly construed the standard required to rebut the presumption under statute 656.802 and that it was permissible for the Board to find that the employer failed to meet its burden of persuasion under that standard.
This decision may be appealed. NCCI will monitor for further developments.
For more information on other cases monitored by NCCI’s Legal Division, visit previous Court Case Updates and
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