On March 7th, 2018, Washington Governor Jay Inslee signed HB 1723 into law. This bill significantly broadens the workers’ compensation eligibility criteria for Hanford workers. Hanford is a decommissioned nuclear production site, located just off the Columbia River, in Benton County, Washington.
Like many Cold War era nuclear sites, Hanford has been associated with many worker illnesses and other serious medical conditions. According to government research, workers were exposed to as many as 1,500 different chemicals at the 586-square-mile Hanford site. Many of the chemicals and substances present at Hanford are extremely dangerous. Many Hanford workers have developed remarkably similar illnesses and diseases, yet workers’ compensation claims have frequently been denied.
The new Washington bill provides much needed legal support for ill Hanford workers. Many additional workers and their families will now have an opportunity to obtain the support that they deserve. In a press release, Hanford Challenge director Tom Carpenter noted that “Washington state has recognized the often terrible price Hanford workers on the front lines of nuclear production and cleanup have to pay for their service to the nation.”
What You Need to Know About HB 1723
The Law Grants Many Hanford Workers Presumptive Access to Workers‘ Compensation Benefits
If you are making a workers’ compensation claim with the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries, you generally have the burden of proving that your illness or injury is connected to your employment. HB 1723 flips this presumption in cases involving certain occupational diseases for workers at the Hanford nuclear site.
In other words, certain illnesses and diseases will be presumed to be connected to Hanford, unless there is evidence that proves otherwise. This is critically important, because many ill Hanford workers frequently have had difficulty obtaining and compiling the evidence required to establish that their illness or disease was connected to a specific chemical or toxic substance at the site.
The ‘Presumption of Coverage’ Applies to Many Medical Conditions
The presumption of coverage created by HB 1723 applies to a broad range of different medical conditions. Diseases and illnesses that are assumed to be connected to Hanford include the following:
- Respiratory diseases;
- Acute and chronic beryllium disease;
- Heart problems that developed within three days of exposures to toxic chemicals or substances at the Hanford site; and
- Neurological disease.
In addition, HB 1723 also presumes that many, cancers are connected to Hanford. The presumption applies to the following forms of cancer:
- Lung cancer;
- Bone cancer;
- Kidney cancer;
- Certain types of lymphoma; and
- Many other forms of cancer.
The Term ‘Hanford Worker’ is Defined Broadly
HB 1723 defines the term ‘Hanford worker’ in a relatively broad manner. To start, a person can qualify as a Hanford worker for the purposes of the law if they worked at the Hanford site, either as a direct employee, as a contractor, or subcontractor. The work performed by the employee could have been performed directly or indirectly for the United States government.
Notably, the law only requires that a worker must have spent at least one eight-hour shift at the Hanford site while they were in a position that was covered by Washington’s workers’ compensation regulations.
The Law Has a Reach Back Provision; Meaning Previously Denied Claims Can Be Re-Opened
Hanford workers who have previously had their claim denied, or family members of deceased Hanford workers whose claim was rejected, may file a new claim under the updated regulations. A claim that was previously rejected by Labor & Industries or by an appeals court may now be successful if re-filed under the new standards.
If your claim was denied, or your deceased family member’s claim was denied, you should consult with an experienced Seattle workers’ compensation lawyer. Your lawyer will be able to review the details of your case and help you determine whether it is advisable to file a new claim when HB 1723 takes effect which is June 7, 2018.
We Support Injured Workers in Washington
At The Walthew Law Firm, we are committed to fighting for the rights and interests of injured workers. Our legal team can help you with any questions or concerns related to HB 1723 or Hanford occupational disease claims.
To get a free, no-obligation consultation, please do not hesitate to contact our law firm today. With offices in Seattle and Everett, we represent injured workers throughout Western Washington, including in Bellevue, Tacoma, Kent, Kirkland, Puyallup, and Federal Way.