A woman who worked to rescue animals abandoned in New York City in the weeks following the September 11 attacks lost her battle with cancer this month. She had worked for the ASPCA as a humane law enforcement officer and special investigator for nearly 20 years, investigating reports of abuse and rescuing sick animals. However, in the weeks following 9/11, she spent her time around Ground Zero rescuing animals left in apartments that their owners weren't able to get to because the areas were restricted or evacuated.
That responsibility took its toll on the officer's health. In 2014, she learned that she had breast cancer. It spread to her brain. The cancer was caused by the toxic fumes that she inhaled during her rescue efforts around Ground Zero.
However, just four days before her death this month at her brother's New Jersey home, a judge denied the 52-year-old woman's workers' compensation claim. The judge acknowledged in his ruling that there was "no dispute in the medical evidence" that her cancer "developed at least in part due to her exposure to the site's toxic fumes."
However, the judge ruled that her cancer could not be considered an "occupational disease" because she was not doing her regular job when she was exposed to the fumes. He wrote that "her exposure arose from ‘an environmental condition specific to the place of work.'" He said that "if she was doing her job in a different area, there would be no exposure."
The single mother continued to work for others even as she shrank to just 60 pounds. She advocated for Congress to renew legislation known as the Zadroga Act that was enacted to compensate first responders who developed illnesses due to their work around Ground Zero.
While this story seems particularly egregious, sadly, workers' compensation claims are denied all of the time for reasons not dissimilar to those used to rationalize the decision in this case. That's why it's sometimes necessary to look to experienced New Jersey workers' compensation attorneys to fight for your right to compensation for yourself and your family.
Source: Park Slope Patch, "9/11 Animal Rescuer Dies 4 Days After Judge Denies Her Workers' Comp Claim," Simone Wilson, Nov. 23, 2015