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City to drop lawsuit against Austin firefighter diagnosed with cancer

Austin firefighter Carrie Stewart was diagnosed with breast cancer and has been in legal battles with the city over workers compensation claims. (Photo: CBS Austin)

UPDATE Tues., Sept. 18: The City of Austin is moving to drop a lawsuit against an Austin firefighter.

Carrie Stewart filed for a workers' compensation claim after she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She claimed her work with AFD contributed to her illness.

The city fought her and lost once, and then filed suit so they would not have to pay for future treatment.

Stewart said the community played a big role in the city dropping its lawsuit. "It kinda goes to show that all of the phone calls and emails provided by the folks in the community, that it has made a difference in my life to have this lawsuit dropped, and it just feels good to go to work and continue to serve as a firefighter in Austin," she said.

Stewart also thanked the city council for giving her lawsuit a second look, and choosing to dismiss it.

Further details were not immediately available.

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The Austin City Council is set to talk about a city lawsuit against a firefighter over workers compensation claims.

In an executive session Tuesday, the Austin City Council is set to talk about a city lawsuit against firefighter Carrie Stewart.

Stewart was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015. She filed for workers compensation under “presumptive legislation” that says her work as a firefighter is presumed to have caused her cancer.

Stewart said the city fought those claims and lost in court. They’ve since paid her medical bills, and Stewart said she’s recovering and down to one oncologist visit a year.

However, the city filed a lawsuit against Stewart. She said it’s so the city doesn’t have to pay more money in the future.

“They’re following judge’s orders and paying for appointments right now they just don’t want to have to do that into the future. But I would like to know that my care and my family would be covered in the future if anything else were to happen,” Stewart said.

After three years of the back and forth, Stewart reached out to city council members. Council Member Delia Garza said that was the first time she heard about it.

After looking into it, she called for an executive session on Tuesday to discuss the case. “At the very least we need to learn exactly what the case is about,” Garza said.

Garza she’s interested to know the city’s legal perspective on “why they thought this was appropriate.” The council could vote to have the city attorney drop the case. \

Garza, a former firefighter and daughter of a firefighter, said this case is concerning. “That’s concerning if we’re basically trying to find less ways to cover our public servants and to give them the benefits they deserve,” Garza said. “I really firmly believe that the city should drop this lawsuit.”

The city released a statement saying it doesn’t want to get money back from Stewart:

“The City does not seek to reclaim benefits paid out to an individual firefighter through this request for judicial review. We are seeking judicial review of an administrative finding by the State’s Division of Workers’ Compensation that exposure to shift work is a cause of cancer. The City is using the judicial review process set out in state law in an effort to overturn a finding that is inconsistent with the medical evidence presented during the administrative process.”

Stewart, though, said the federal government has designated that work as a firefighter can cause cancer. She noted multiple 9/11 firefighters have won workers compensation claims over the years after similar battles. “I think all across the country it’s a broader effort,” Stewart said.

Stewart said she’s felt frustrated and betrayed by this legal battle after spending 15 years as a firefighter. “It still is a little bit frustrating as a firefighter and a public servant to have been sued by the city that you’ve worked for for a long time. But that’s an unfortunate reality for firefighter, cancer cases,” Stewart said.

“They put their lives on their line every day and to have the city sue a firefighter or a police officer is wrong over workers comp,” attorney Brad McClellan.

Stewart said if the city drops the lawsuit, it would be a testament to how many people reached out to council members on her behalf.

It would also be a major relief. “That would be a great turnaround,” Stewart said.

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