Heart/Lung Presumption Can Be Limited By Passage Of Time

Patrick McKeown was a firefighter with the City of Mountlake Terrace, Washington. McKeown retired on July 16, 2000, but remained on the payroll until January 12, 2001. In 2006, McKeown was diagnosed with a heart condition – cardiomyopathy – which his physician believed was caused by exposure to a respiratory virus sometime in 2000.

Under Washington’s “heart/lung statute,” certain cardiac and respiratory conditions suffered by firefighters are presumed to be caused by the job. However, for the presumption to apply, the statute requires that claims be filed no more than 60 months after the last date of employment.

McKeown argued that the statute of limitations begins to run only after a physician diagnosed the condition, The Washington Court of Appeals disagreed, finding that the “plain language of the statute allows a firefighter claiming occupational disease to use the rebuttable evidentiary presumption for up to 60 months following his or her last date of employment. Because McKeown’s last day on the City payroll was in January 2001 and he filed his occupational disease claim in February 2008, the plain language of the statute precludes McKeown from asserting the presumption.

“McKeown ignores the statute’s plain language, which imposes a strict time limit on this benefit. Every occupational disease claimant is entitled to file a claim within two years of receiving notice of the condition, and McKeown’s occupational disease claim is undisputedly timely under that provision. However, nothing in the statute suggests that the time limit for application of the evidentiary presumption only begins to run when a firefighter receives notice of the condition.

“McKeown argues that the Act is remedial in nature and must be liberally construed with all doubts resolved in favor of the worker. It is true that we resolve doubts in favor of the worker when construing the Act. But it is fundamental that, when the intent of the legislature is clear from a reading of a statute, there is no room for construction. The liberal construction doctrine does not apply under the circumstances here.”

McKeown v. City of Mountlake Terrace, 2012 WL 3156370 (Wash. App. Div. 1 2012).