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Firefighter wins cancer lawsuit against Pasco County

The county fought the claim, saying the skin cancer wasn’t invasive and the law was vague.
 
West Pasco Government Center
West Pasco Government Center [ Special to the Times ]
Published Oct. 27, 2023

Firefighter William Hammond and the union that represents him have won their lawsuit accusing Pasco County of improperly denying him medical coverage for a cancer claim.

The judge ruled last month against the county’s last argument, that Hammond’s skin cancer was not “invasive” and, therefore, did not merit full coverage under the the state’s Firefighters Cancer Bill. The legislation promises medical coverage and a $25,000 lump sum payment to firefighters who receive a cancer diagnosis.

Hammond, who has worked for more than 20 years with Pasco County Fire Rescue, was diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma on his face and head in June of 2020, according to the lawsuit he and the firefighters union filed in January 2022. When he sought reimbursement for the cost of treatment and the lump sum payment described in the law, county officials denied the claim.

That sparked outrage from the union membership of the Pasco County Professional Firefighters Local 4420 of the International Association of Fire Fighters. Members attended a County Commission meeting urging county officials to change their mind about the challenge.

One union leader called it “not only an attack on every firefighter in Pasco County. It’s an attack on every firefighter in Florida” and promised political repercussions.

But the county persisted. Officials had first told Hammond 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.

Pasco County argued in court that the law is overly vague. And it said the law fails to define the term “invasive skin cancer,” one of the types of cancer specified under the law. The court ruled late last year that the claim was not “overly vague.”

The county continued to argue that Hammond’s cancer was not invasive and therefore did not meet the requirements of the firefighter cancer law. After several hearings, Circuit Judge Kimberly Sharpe Byrd ruled in September in Hammond’s favor. The ruling includes the statement by Hammond’s doctor that “without doubt” his patient had invasive cancer.

The physician hired by the county, on the other hand, did not examine Hammond, did not examine medical records or images and did not address whether the cancer was invasive, the ruling says. Instead, that doctor said that the type of cancer Hammond had “is generally not considered to be an aggressive form.” That, according to the ruling, “does not refute that this was invasive skin cancer.”

Pasco County Attorney Jeffrey Steinsnyder told the County Commission on Tuesday that the judge had ruled in the case and it was not in the county’s favor. He recommended that the county not appeal the case, and commissioners had no response.

A message left seeking comment from the firefighter’s union was not immediately returned.