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Appellate Court Decision in Firefighter “Rebuttable Presumption” Case

Appellate Court Decision in Firefighter “Rebuttable Presumption” Case

On April 13, 2017, the Workers’ Compensation Commission Division of the Appellate Court issued a Decision, affirming the Commission’s denial of benefits to a firefighter who suffered a cardiac condition.  This is the first published Decision on the “rebuttable presumption” statute which was enacted by the legislature in 2008.  A copy of the Court’s Decision in Johnston v. Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission is attached. 
The legislature created a rebuttable presumption in favor of firefighters who suffer from certain conditions, including heart disease and cancer.  Such conditions are rebuttably presumed to be related to the firefighter’s employment and the exposures faced in that employment.  The statute did not specifically address the amount of evidence required to rebut the presumption on the part of the employer.  The Appellate Court has now determined that the employer need not present clear and convincing evidence to rebut the presumption, but rather is required to offer some evidence sufficient to support a finding that something other than the claimant’s occupation as a firefighter caused his/her condition. 
This is a very significant opinion from the Appellate Court, since it helps define the weight of evidence required to rebut a presumption.  The employer may present, for example, the opinion of a defense expert, opining that firefighter’s condition is not related to work place exposures, and, based on the Appellate Court opinion, the opinion should be sufficient to rebut the presumption.  Once the presumption is rebutted, the burden of proof shifts back to the Petitioner, and a finder of fact (Arbitrator or Commission) is required to determine whether the Petitioner has proved his/her case by preponderance of the evidence.  For non-municipal clients, the Appellate Court Decision is also reassurance that the Appellate Court will support reasonable defenses in appropriate cases. 

John P. Fassola
Attorney at Law
Power & Cronin