When a Win is Not Just a Win: PERA Duty Disability Benefits Awarded to a Firefighter with Breast Cancer

A firefighter signals to another person whilst water sprays a roaring flame during an exercise.

As a lawyer, I’m not going to deny that it’s fun to win a case for many reasons. One, of course, that means our client gets paid, and so we get paid. Two, it’s great to get a good result for a client – our client is happy and we are happy. Maybe if we’re lucky, that happy client will refer us to a friend or colleague who needs a lawyer down the road. Three, in some cases, a win can establish case precedent which can help on future cases. And, four, especially in really contentious cases, difficult cases, or complex cases, there’s no denying that there’s a feeling of satisfaction when you win.

After you do this for long enough, though, sometimes a win can mean something different. Over my years of practice with Meuser Law Office, P.A., I have several cases that stick out to me as special for one reason or another. They’re not always my biggest or hardest cases. Sometimes I just really like the client or there is a complex legal issue that we prevail on. Other times, there was a difficult issue on the case that we overcame.

And sometimes, those wins mean a lot for very personal reasons. You see, I lost my mom this winter to lung cancer. She survived for seven months from diagnosis. Mom’s diagnosis was the most horrible kind of shock I can imagine. My family went from normal life to life through the lens of cancer in a blink of an eye. My amazing, courageous, beautiful mother survived through chemo and radiation for seven months after diagnosis. It wasn’t enough time. It never is. As a lawyer, I’m a problem solver – a fixer. But in a lot of ways, I felt helpless to do anything to help my mom.

In this midst of going through this with my family – going to oncology, pulmonology, radiation, and chemo appoints, helping my dad care for my mom, trying to help my mom get her affairs in order, and trying to spend quality time with my mom – I met with a firefighter suffering from breast cancer to explore potential claims for workers’ compensation and PERA. Her cancer has metastasized, and it will be terminal. I like this client for several reasons – she’s a great person, and I’m honored to know her. Unfortunately, workers’ compensation claims and PERA claims involving cancer are difficult, simply because it’s not always possible to state definitively what caused the cancer – is it work-related exposures or not?

We know definitively that there is a significantly-increased risk for firefighters of developing various types of cancer. However, in the case of breast cancer in female firefighters, there is a notable lack of research in this area. While there are several studies looking at incident rates of various types of cancer in male firefighters, none of these studies have included women. Moreover, studies involving female breast cancer generally don’t look at occupational exposures as a risk factor – they almost always focus on female-centric exposures, such as hormones, birth control, and genetics. There are a number of studies currently, including the Women Firefighter Biomonitoring Collaboration, underway to try to evaluate the rate of incidence of cancer in female firefighters, but those studies won’t be completed for years. So as it stands, there’s unfortunately not a lot of hard, objective, scientific evidence specifically linking female breast cancer to the types of occupational exposures that firefighters experience.

Notwithstanding what we knew would be difficulty in proving the causal relationship between this firefighter’s cancer and her occupational exposures, we decided to take a shot at proceeding with claims on her behalf.

I am so proud to report that we were able to successfully establish this firefighter’s eligibility PERA Police and Fire Plan Duty Disability Benefits, meaning that among other things, we proved that her cancer was the direct result of performing inherently dangerous duties. In other words, her occupational exposures as a firefighter caused her cancer.

In hindsight, I realize that being able to help this client was cathartic. In so many ways, I was utterly and completely helpless to do anything to help my mom. But being able to help this client suffering from terminal breast cancer, in some small way, makes me feel like I was able to help someone, even though I couldn’t do anything to change my mom’s outcome. When I got the news that this client had been approved for Duty Disability benefits, I couldn’t help thinking about how proud my mom would have been. Sometimes, a win is more than a win.

Meuser Law Office, P.A. is one of the few workers’ compensation law firms in the state of Minnesota that also handles PERA and MSRS disability claims. We’ve successfully represented hundreds of State Patrol, police officers and firefighters throughout the state for both workers’ compensation and PERA/MSRS disability claims. Sitting down with us for a consultation to learn more about your potential claims is a lot like financial planning. We can explain what rights you have and make recommendations to you in terms of how to best protect your rights to those benefits. The knowledgeable attorneys at Meuser Law Office, P.A. can help make the process easier to navigate. Contact us today for a free, no-obligation consultation by calling 1-877-746-5680.