Workers’ cancer cluster claim denied by court

The Court of Appeal is just the latest body to rule on whether or not the women’s employment at the hospital led to the cancer

The B.C. Court of Appeal has upheld a previous court ruling finding no proof for the claim that working at Mission Memorial Hospital’s lab caused breast cancer in former workers.

In the December ruling, the Court of Appeal set aside a previous Workers Compensation Appeal Tribunal decision that had found in favour of Patricia Schmidt, Katrina Hammer and Anne MacFarlane, and agreed with a 2013 Supreme Court decision.

Six lab technicians at the hospital contracted breast cancer between 1970 and 2004 in what was deemed a “cancer cluster.”

The Court of Appeal is just the latest body to rule on whether or not the women’s employment at the hospital led to the cancer.

After the Workers Compensation Board ruled against the women, a Workers’ Compensation Administrative Tribunal (WCAT) disagreed and found in favour of the former MMH employees in 2011.

But the Fraser Health Authority appealed and in 2013, that decision was quashed.

In December, with the case back in court, three of five court of appeal justices again found that the WCAT ruling was “patently unreasonable” and that beyond “an unexplained statistical anomaly” there was no evidence that employment in the lab caused the women to develop breast cancer.

“The suggestion that the cancer was caused by her employment conditions does not rise above speculation,” wrote Justice Richard Goepel.

He agreed with the Supreme Court justice who noted that “a higher-than-expected rate of cancer in a workplace cannot alone provide evidence that the cancer was caused by occupational factors” given a report stating clusters of cancer in a workplace are statistically certain to arise in various places and times.

Two justices dissented, noting that while a court of law would favour a “more technical reading” of expert reports, the WCAT’s decision was not unreasonable and thus should not be before the courts.

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