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Workers’ comp law now provides expanded coverage for first responders

On Behalf of | Jun 22, 2024 | Workers' Compensation

First responders have physically and emotionally stressful jobs – they often deal with life-and-death emergencies daily. While they have workers’ compensation coverage, this coverage hasn’t always addressed all medical conditions that are directly related to their jobs.

This January, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed a new law that expands coverage for first responders in two key ways.

Coverage for medical events occurring after an emergency call

First, the law now provides a rebuttable presumption that a cardiac event or stroke that occurs within 24 hours is work related. That means that a responder’s employer and/or workers’ comp insurance provider has the burden of proof if they argue that a responder affected in this way is not eligible for workers’ comp benefits.

Prior to the change, first responders and their families were only covered by workers’ comp if these events occurred while they were on duty or could prove that a heart attack or other medical event was directly related to their work.

Coverage for volunteers

Second, the new law extends coverage to “volunteer firefighters, members of a volunteer first aid or rescue squad” who have not previously been eligible for workers’ comp benefits. These volunteers can experience just as much physical and emotional trauma as professional firefighters and other first responders. They’re often essential – particularly in rural areas where resources are limited and when there’s a large-scale emergency, and deserve to be treated as such.

New law can help those already seeking benefits

Workers’ compensation provides coverage for medical care and wage replacement for workers and eligible volunteers who have been injured or developed a medical condition due to their jobs. It also provides survivor benefits for families who have lost a loved one.

The new workers’ comp legislation was prompted in part by the case of the family of a New Jersey emergency medical technician (EMT) who suffered a fatal heart attack within hours after an emergency call. They battled for years to receive workers’ comp benefits. The new law, which took effect immediately, is retroactive for related cases like this that were already being challenged.

While this change in workers’ comp law can make things easier for some workers, volunteers and their families, getting the benefits that someone needs and deserves can still be a challenge. That’s particularly true when there could potentially be other causal factors related to a particular condition. Injured parties and surviving loved ones can help level the playing field with sound legal guidance to protect their rights.