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Denial of Benefits Improperly Based on Amended Regulation's New Standard of Proof

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By FindLaw Staff on March 15, 2010 4:05 PM

In Woodward v. Dep't of Justice, No. 09-8004, the Federal Circuit faced a challenge to BJA's denial of death benefits to the claimant, for the death of her husband-volunteer firefighter under the Public Safety Officers' Act.  The BJA denied the claim based on a conclusion that smoke inhalation was not a substantial factor in the death, as it was uncertain whether claimant's husband died of a heart attack he suffered shortly after the fire.

In 2003, when the claimants first filed the claim, the regulation required burden of proof that was a more lenient standard, resolving any reasonable doubt in favor of the claimant.  In 2006, while claimant's appeal was pending, the regulation was amended to a more stringent standard requiring claimants to prove all material issues of fact by a "more likely than not" standard. 

Thus, in reversing the denial, the court held that the BJA incorrectly applied the amended regulation as this was a significant change in the law that disfavors retroactive application of the amended regulation. 

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