VOLUSIA COUNTY, Fla. — Attorneys for a retired local firefighter say her fight for retroactive cancer benefits could make its way to the Florida Supreme Court.
9 Investigates first told you how former Volusia County firefighter Kathleen Weaver was fighting for a $25,000 payment through a state law protecting firefighters, but her claim was denied because the law was put into place after she got sick.
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Weaver’s attorney said a continued fight could impact other cases statewide.
Weaver was a trailblazer for more than 35 years, fighting fires and protecting astronauts in a specialized role at the Kennedy Space Center before becoming a deputy chief at Volusia County Fire Rescue, where she retired in 2012. Now, her attorney said her fight for retroactive benefits under a 2019 Florida law could blaze a new path for hundreds of firefighters statewide, diagnosed with cancer before that statute went into place.
Read: Brief filed asking judge to uphold ruling denying former Volusia firefighter cancer payout claim
“I think that’s a critical thing to understand; There’s only $25,000 at stake here. So this is really not about money,” attorney Geoff Bichler said. “For her, it’s much more about the principle of it, and trying to take a stand for firefighters.”
Weaver’s 2017 diagnosis of ovarian cancer came two years before Florida enacted what’s known as the firefighter cancer bill. It provides reimbursements for costs incurred from cancer treatments as well as a single $25,000 payout, recognizing certain cancers as an occupational hazard. Though at least two judges in Florida have ruled in favor of firefighters whose diagnoses came before the law, a third sided with Volusia County after Weaver’s claim for those benefits was denied. The 5th District Court of Appeals just agreed with that denial.
Read: Appeal argues firefighters should receive cancer diagnosis dollars retroactively
“The law specifically says this is an alternative to the Worker’s Compensation Act. So Kathleen Weaver, as an example, could have brought a worker’s compensation claim, but she didn’t. She sought this benefit as an alternative. So that’s why we think the law should be read as retroactive,” Bichler said.
Bichler says the next move could be asking the appeals court to submit a question about the case to the Florida Supreme Court. Attorneys for the Florida League of Cities filed a legal brief against Weaver’s appeal, saying a decision in her favor would “thrust Florida’s local governments into fiscal chaos and uncertainty.” Bichler expects that group and others would ask the Supreme Court to consider those factors if a certified question makes its way in front of those justices.
Read: Orange County firefighter’s cancer claim to go before administrative judge
“There is a lot of confusion, and a lot of people will be impacted by the decision one way or the other,” Bichler said.
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