First Suit Filed Over Florida’s Firefighter Cancer Presumption Law

A St. Petersburg fire lieutenant who was diagnosed with cancer last year, and who was denied coverage under Florida’s newly enacted cancer presumption law, has filed suit.

Lt. Jason Francis filed suit against the city of St. Petersburg last Friday in Pinellas County Circuit Court. He filed for benefits under Florida Statutes 112.1816 on July 1, 2019, which incidentally was the day the law went into effect. City officials rejected his application claiming that because his diagnosis occurred in May 2018, the new law was inapplicable to him.

The cancer presumption law does not indicate whether it is intended to apply retroactively to firefighters with cancer. Here is a copy of the entire statute.

The language in question states:

  • Upon a diagnosis of cancer, a firefighter is entitled to the following benefits, as an alternative to pursuing workers’ compensation benefits under chapter 440, if the firefighter has been employed by his or her employer for at least 5 continuous years, has not used tobacco products for at least the preceding 5 years, and has not been employed in any other position in the preceding 5 years which is proven to create a higher risk for any cancer:

WFTS quoted the city as saying:

  • “The language of the law is silent as to whether the benefit is retroactive and if so, for how long? Further, the language is vague overall and contradictory in spots. All the City seeks is for a court or the legislature to clarify the benefit. St. Petersburg is not the only entity in Florida facing this issue. Every municipality and fire district in the state is struggling with implementation. The Legal Department is currently taking action to get clarification from the courts but it may take some time before we get an answer.”

Lt. Francis was quoted as saying:

  • “There was a lot of emotion, there was anger, and shock. A lot the other people that will be diagnosed in the future or have been recently and they’re gonna have to fight through this as well.”

Lt. Francis underwent surgery to remove his thyroid and numerous lymph nodes last January.

BTW… I hate to editorialize. IMHO there is way too much of that in the news today… so much so that it becomes hard to know where the facts end and the rhetoric begins. But in this case I have to say, it takes a special kind of Scrooge to make a decision like the city made in this case. How do folks look at themselves in the mirror.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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