Oklahoma Supreme Court Rules for Firefighter in Work Comp Dispute

April 3, 2009

The Oklahoma Supreme Court has upheld the claim of a 19-year veteran of the Edmond Fire Department who has cancer that he is entitled to receive workers’ compensation benefits.

The firefighter, 45-year-old Tim Vernon, was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer in July 2006. He had claimed his cancer was job-related when applying for the benefits. A state law presumes that the dangers of fighting fires can cause illnesses such as cancer or heart or lung problems.

Edmond and other Oklahoma cities have fought that law. Charles Braun, the attorney for Edmond, argued in court that the law is unconstitutional and that it arbitrarily provides special treatment to firefighters.

Vernon’s attorney, Jeff Cooper, said he hopes the Supreme Court ruling will set a precedent.

“I am very excited it will make a difference for every firefighter in the state, not just me,” Vernon said. It is not just about me. Everyone will benefit.”

Since his diagnosis, Vernon has continued to receive a paycheck from the city of Edmond, as other city employees donated time to allow him to remain on the city’s payroll. Cooper said those employees now will receive their time back.

Stephen Murdock, Edmond’s city attorney, said city officials will have to examine the ruling.

“We certainly understand the court’s decision,” he said. “We accept it and wish Mr. Vernon the best.”

Information from: The Oklahoman, www.newsok.com

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