City Fighting Workers’ Comp Claim of Oklahoma Firefighter

March 4, 2009

City officials in Edmond, Okla., are challenging court rulings in favor of a firefighter who claims his colon cancer is a work-related injury because of the smoke, hazardous materials and chemicals he was exposed to on the job.

Tim Vernon, 45, is a 19-year veteran firefighter who is fighting for his workers’ compensation benefits.

Oklahoma law presumes his stage four colon cancer is work related because of the nature of firefighting work. Workers’ Compensation and Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals judges agree Vernon is eligible for state financial help.

Edmond’s attorneys believe the law is unconstitutional because it provides special treatment for firefighters and they want the Oklahoma Supreme Court to review the case.

If Vernon wins in the higher court, it will mean Edmond and other cities across the state are liable for firefighters who become ill with cancer or heart and lung problems on the job.

Edmond firefighter John Werhun also has been diagnosed with stage four colon cancer.

“Fighting cancer is hard enough without having to hire an attorney and fight for your rights that the Legislature thought we deserved,” said Werhun, 28. “The burden of fighting a court case makes it that much harder to handle the (cancer) treatment.”

Vernon added: “Not to do what the court said is asinine and arrogant. A lot is riding on this, not just for me, but all firefighters and their families. It has gotten a whole lot bigger than Edmond.”

Gary Copeland, president of International Association of Firefighters Local 157, said a number of Oklahoma City firefighters also have been denied workers’ compensation benefits in similar cases and have been forced to hire attorneys at their expense.

“We think municipalities are handling it wrong,” he said.

Information from: The Oklahoman,

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