The city of Austin, Texas, has dropped a lawsuit challenging the determination by state workers’ compensation officials and an appeals panel that a firefighter diagnosed with cancer is eligible for workers’ comp benefits.
According to the Austin Firefighters Association, Lt. Carrie Stewart has served in the Austin Fire Department for 18 years. In 2015 she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015.
The Austin American Statesman reported that Stewart filed for workers’ comp after her cancer diagnosis, arguing that her disease was work-related. An administrative law judge with the Division of Workers’ Compensation determined she was eligible for benefits and a three-judge panel ruled in her favor after the city appealed that decision.
The city then filed suit, disputing the outcome of its appeal and seeking to recover attorneys’ fees generated in fighting Stewart’s case, according to various media reports.
On Sept. 18, the Austin City Council made the decision to drop the action against Stewart.
Stewart had been strongly supported by the firefighters’ union and the general public. In a message on the Austin Firefighters Association website, Stewart thanked her supporters, stating that she was “humbled, amazed and overwhelmed by the emails, phone calls, and social media efforts that not only our members participated in, but that were forwarded to friends and family so they might participate also. Council member staff reported they received an influx of opinion and feedback about the lawsuit …” She said the support not only made a difference to herself and her family but also will influence how such claims are handled in the future.
Apparently Austin is not alone in Texas in trying to limit firefighters’ workers’ comp claims for cancer they say is work-related. The Associated Press reported in August that many Texas cities are denying workers’ compensation to firefighters with cancer, according to union leaders and state lawmakers.
The AP reported that in the past six years, more than 90 percent of the 117 workers’ compensation claims filed by Texas firefighters with cancer have been denied, according to the Texas Department of Insurance.
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