NEW PORT RICHEY — A lawsuit filed by a 20-plus year Pasco County firefighter is still active after a judge recently ruled against the county, which had argued that a 2019 law guaranteeing certain benefits to firefighters who get cancer was too vague.
Supported by the Pasco County Professional Firefighters Local 4420, William Hammond has been fighting for the full benefit package including a $25,000 lump sum promised to firefighters with a cancer diagnosis. Pasco County challenged the benefit package law that promises to cover all treatment costs, enhanced disability or death benefits and the lump-sum payment by arguing it is “constitutionally vague.”
Hammond was diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma on his face and head in June 2020, according to the lawsuit filed by Hammond and the union against Pasco County in January. When he sought reimbursement for the cost of treatment and the lump-sum payment described in the law, county officials denied the claim.
They first told him that he hadn’t signed a form saying he didn’t use tobacco, even though the form was not required, and he did not use tobacco. Later they told him that the county’s insurance carrier, Aflac, refused the claim, according to the lawsuit.
In March, Pasco County filed its response. In describing the law as overly vague, the county said it fails to define the term “invasive skin cancer,” one of the types of cancer specified. The action mobilized local firefighters who came out in force to a June Pasco County Commission meeting where they urged the county commissioners to do right by their co-worker and approve the claim.
One union member told commissioners that their challenge was “not only an attack on every firefighter in Pasco County. It’s an attack on every firefighter in Florida” warning them of long-term political implications.
County commissioners were divided on the issue and after a brief public discussion at that meeting which centered on whether they should talk openly about the case when Florida allowed discussion of pending litigation in private, commissioners met privately with county staff. Several weeks later they met as the full commission with their legal team behind closed doors to discuss strategy.
Circuit Court Judge Kimberly Sharpe Byrd ruled in September that the cancer benefit law is not unconstitutional and denied the county’s motion to dismiss the complaint. Since then, Sharpe Byrd has given Pasco county additional time to respond to Hammond’s arguments.
Last month, the Pasco County Commission approved a request to increase the amount of funding to fight the case by $50,000 to be paid to Gray Robinson P.A. for a cumulative total not to exceed $85,000.