The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania has upheld the widow of a Philadelphia firefighter in her claim that her husband’s Hepatitis C was contracted in the line of duty.
Joseph Kriebel served as a Philadelphia firefighter from 1974 until 2003. He passed away on October 25, 2004, from liver disease caused by Hepatitis C. Patricia Kriebel, filed a workers’ compensation claim following his death claiming that his disease and death were job related.
The Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act identifies Hepatitis C as an “occupational disease” for career and volunteer firefighters, and section 301(e) of the Act creates a rebuttable presumption that an occupational disease is causally related to employment.
The city countered Mrs. Kriebel’s claim with evidence from her husband’s military medical file dating back to 1969 indicating that he suffered “serum hepatitis from drug usage”. Unable to produce the doctor who made the note, the city found an expert witness, Dr. Stephen J. Gluckman, M.D, who concluded that Kriebel’s hepatitis was due to intravenous drug usage not exposure as a firefighter.
The Workers Compensation Board concluded Dr. Gluckman’s opinion was based on pure speculation from the note and lacked a factual basis. The city appealed, and a lower Pennsylvania court agreed with the city.
On Mrs. Kriebel’s appeal the Pennsylvania Supreme Court agreed with the Workers Comp decision, concluding “This Court has stated that reliance on a “presumption on a presumption,” as Employer’s expert has done herein, must be condemned as the height of “irresponsible speculation.”… Accordingly, we find that Dr. Gluckman’s opinion, which lacks an adequate factual foundation, constitutes nothing but conjecture and speculation.”
Without Dr. Gluckman’s testimony, the statutory presumption was enough for Mrs. Kriebel to prevail on her claim.
To read the Supreme Court decision, click here.