Volunteer Firemen and Emergency Medical Technicians Entitled to Workers Compensation
Although not necessarily "new", an often overlooked provision in the New Jersey Worker's Compensation Act provides for all of the benefits available under the Act for volunteers injured in the exercise of their providing public first aid or rescue duties.
The clear public benefit provided by volunteerism particulary in fire fighting and responding to calls for first aid prompted the Legislature to adopt section 43 of the Act. In our opinion, the invaluable service provided by our community volunteers warrants AT LEAST that and more.
If you are a volunteer firefighter or EMT injured in the line of duty, you are entitled to medical treatment at zero cost to you. If in the opinion of the treating doctor, you are unable to work, you will receive maximum rate workers compensation temporary disability benefits for the period of temporary disability. Further, if your injury is permanent and able to be established by objective medical evidence (MRI, EMG, CT SCAN, XRAY) you will be entitled to an award of money. Finally, you will have the right to future benefits in the event your condition(s) worsens and you need additional medical treatment.
Please contact Brandon or Adam at (609) 641-8805 if you have any questions.
An exerpt from an article written by Adam M. Walcoff, Esquire and published at www.edpdlaw.com:
What is workers comp? What happens if I am involved in an accident while working? What should I be getting from my employer? These often asked questions usually occur only after an employee is injured as a result of a work accident. But it is extremely important to know what benefits exist in the event of a work injury before an injury occurs so you know how to protect yourself.
In the event you are injured on the job, New Jersey provides a specific set of benefits to which every worker is entitled:
1. MEDICAL TREATMENT: The law provides that the employer of an injured worker must provide all the medical treatment directed at curing or relieving the work injury. The employer is permitted to choose the health care professionals who provide that treatment. Medical bills generated in connection with treatment rendered for work injuries are the responsibility of the employer.
2. TEMPORARY DISASBILITY: In the event a work injury renders an employee temporarily unable to perform his or her job duties, the Act requires the employer to pay the injured worker while this temporary disability exists. As long as the doctors keep you out of work, the employer must continue paying you. New Jersey requires an employer pay the employee 70% of his or her gross weekly wages up to a cap which changes from year to year based on the State Average Weekly Wage. However, as contract employees, most law enforcement professionals have contract rights which provide for more than the law’s temporary disability requirement.
3. PERMANENT PARTIAL DISABILITY: Once all reasonable and necessary medical treatment has been rendered and the employee has returned to work, the injured worker is entitled to an award of money based on the severity of the injury(s) sustained. In some cases, this can be a significant sum of money. In every case where an accident results in an injury capable of being proved by objective medical evidence and results in limitations, an award is warranted.
Further, the injured worker who is successful in establishing his or her right to workers’ compensation benefits is entitled to reopener rights or the ability to seek additional medical treatment, temporary disability and (if appropriate) an increase in partial permanent disability in the event the injury worsens over time. The right exists for two (2) years after the last payment of a benefit by the employer.
Most work injuries fall into one of two categories:
1. ACCIDENTAL INJURIES: An injury which occurs as a result of an accident is easy to identify. Motor vehicle accidents, slip or trip and fall accidents, injuries arising out of an altercation with a suspect, lifting injuries are all examples of accidental injuries;
2. OCCUPATIONAL INJURIES: An injury which occurs as a result of repetitive effort or exposure to a particular condition is less easy to identify. Constant and repetitive lifting resulting in an injury is an example of such a claim. The key question to ask once you have an injury is “is there something at work which caused or contributed to this problem?”
Both types of injuries are covered under the workers’ compensation act and would result in the injured worker being eligible for all of the benefits identified above.
If a work injury occurs, you must report it immediately to your supervisor. The supervisor then has the obligation to formally report the accident or injury to the employer and workers compensation benefits should commence. If you do not tell the employer of your injury or accident, they do not have the obligation to provide benefits. So, STEP ONE: REPORT THE ACCIDENT OR INJURY. Even if you are not sure if it is work related, report it.
You are obligated to treat with the physicians your employer chooses, so do not refuse medical treatment. Simply attend those medical appointments made for you. If you disagree with the assessment of the treating doctors, there are actions that an attorney can take on your behalf to combat the decisions of the treating physicians. So, STEP TWO: ATTEND ALL MEDICAL APPOINTMENTS ARRANGED BY YOUR EMPLOYER.
Most injured workers do not receive the full gambit of benefits provided under the law. Moreover, many injured workers are unprotected when it comes to issues regarding medical treatment and temporary disability benefits. That is why obtaining the services of an attorney who concentrates in workers compensation law to protect and obtain all of your benefits is important. So, STEP THREE: HIRE A WORKERS’ COMPENSATION ATTORNEY.
In New Jersey, workers’ compensation attorneys are hired on a contingency fee basis. That is, the attorney should work for you without a retainer and at no cost to the injured worker unless the injured worker recovers permanent partial disability benefits. The Workers’ Compensation Act provides that an attorney’s fee may be awarded by the workers’ compensation judge in an amount not to exceed 20% of the amount awarded to the injured worker. In most cases that fee is divided between the employer and the employee at the judge’s discretion. No fee can be charged or collected without the approval of the presiding workers’ compensation judge and that fee cannot exceed 20% of the award. Allocating the award between the employer and employee is within the discretion of the Court.
Further, the costs associated with prosecuting the workers’ compensation claim are also typically approved and awarded by the Court. The injured worker should not pay out of pocket for any costs or fees associated with the case, although there is no direct prohibition to a different arrangement. In this writer’s opinion, such costs and fees should be paid only in the event of an award and only according to an Order or Judgment of the Court.
In summary, there are numerous rights and protections afforded injured workers in New Jersey. Unfortunately, not all of those benefits are voluntarily provided by the employer. This is especially true with respect to permanent partial disability benefits. Hiring an attorney to protect your rights is of paramount importance. If you have been injured, report it, get the medical attention you need and consult with a workers compensation attorney.