Thursday, August 15, 2019

NEW: Goodyear Firefighter's Workers' Comp Claim For Leukemia Should Be Re-heard, Says Arizona Supreme Court (READ Opinion)

A Goodyear firefighter  now battling a rare leukemia may continue fighting for his workers' compensation claim, according to a unanimous opinion today from the Arizona Supreme Court. The Justices found that the Administrative Law Judge who had affirmed the denial of the exposure claim had not issued "any findings" to support his decision, and that it must therefore be set aside.

Gilbert Aguirre has been a Goodyear firefighter for 12 years and has responded to fires at meth labs, and others involving jet fuel, paint thinners and other chemicals. In 2015, he was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia - or, CML. He brought the claim that his CML was caused by his workplace exposure to those toxic chemicals.

CopperPoint Insurance denied the claim against the City, and the Industrial Commission of Arizona reviewed the denial. The ICA's Administrative Law Judge heard conflicting testimony from both sides and affirmed the denial without stating his specific reasons for finding that Aguirre had not carried his burden of proof that the toxic chemicals he had encountered caused the CML.

Justice Andrew Gould wrote the opinion for the unanimous court and blasted the terse decision from the ALJ:
Here, because the ALJ made no findings, the award is legally deficient and must be set aside. Although the ALJ generally cited the occupational disease statute, he made none of the findings required under § 23-901.01(B) and (C). Specifically, the award neither resolves the material issue of whether Aguirre “was exposed to a known carcinogen . . . and the carcinogen is reasonably related to” his CML, nor does it resolve the conflicting opinions of Drs. Wilkenfeld and Salganick on this material issue. 
The Court also rejected the City's argument that it had been the firefighters' responsibility to specifically raise the argument that the ALJ decision was deficient. "Here, the ALJ made no material findings at all. Thus, because he failed to fulfill his statutory duty, we cannot, as a practical matter, review his decision on appeal."

The full opinion is below.

"AZ Law" is a new program broadcast on Sun Sounds of Arizona, a non-profit service of Rio Salado Community College, providing audio access to print information to people who cannot read or hold print material due to a disability. 

Our next broadcast installment will be on Sun Sounds of Arizona at 11:00a.m., on Saturday, August 17. You can donate or listen to Sun Sounds here.

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