When Can State Law Prevent Breast Cancer Victims From Receiving Workers Compensation

Battling breast cancer is scary all by itself. But it’s much worse when you have to worry about coddling family members who don’t know what to say or how to act, deal with insurance company reps who don’t want to cut you a fair deal, and contend with unfair state laws or inflated costs of care no one could possibly afford. Sometimes, workers compensation laws allow victims or survivors of cancer to recoup costs. That’s because certain types of work are carcinogenic, i.e. they can cause cancer or have been shown to include groups of people who seem to have higher rates of cancer. 

Laurianna Sargent was one such person who thought she would be covered under workers comp laws in New Mexico, where a Presumptive Cause Bill stated clearly that cancer care costs should be covered when your job sometimes causes cancer. Sargent was a volunteer firefighter for over twenty years. It only makes sense that she thought her employers would be willing to show her the same compassion she showed victims of fire for those two decades.

But that’s not what happened. Why? Because cancer diagnoses are more likely as a person gets older. The law presumes that a person only has the right to workers comp if the job had enough time to cause the cancer. What determines that period of time? Unclear.

Sargent explained, “Mine was not covered, because I was not diagnosed before the age of forty. Typically most women don’t get sent to get their first mammogram until they’re forty.”

In this case, the law seems to posit that a woman should not be covered if she is diagnosed with breast cancer before she would normally be screened for it. As so many people with illnesses have had to do already, Sargent set up a GoFundMe so she can relieve some of the crushing financial strain. Meanwhile, her case hasn’t gone unnoticed. AFR representatives are trying to amend the Presumptive Cause Bill so women don’t have to go through the same ordeal as Sargent.

Out of the eleven people diagnosed with cancer in AFR, three haven’t been covered under current guidelines. We reached out to Sargent to inquire whether or not she considered retaining the services of a workers compensation lawyer, but she has yet to respond to our request for comment.

A new California bill, AB 479, would help reduce the number of noncompliant workers’ comp claims and practices. The American Medical Association has a specific set of guidelines for how to process such claims, and it was noted that this process was often subverted or ignored in many workplaces.

AB479 would mandate doctors to determine exactly which work-related impairments were caused by breast cancer. The reason that the bill surfaced was because many workers who have struggled with cancer face a set of lifelong physical, mental, and financial consequences that workers comp payments rarely reflect.