There’s no question that first responders have some of the most stressful jobs there are. They deal with life-and-death situations every day – sometimes multiple times a day and in some cases, mass casualty events. Oftentimes, they put their own health and safety at risk. This mental and emotional stress can also be accompanied by physical stress, such as having to lift and move people to get them out of harm’s way and treat them.
That’s why New Jersey workers’ compensation law has what’s called a “rebuttable presumption” that if “volunteer and professional public safety and law enforcement personnel” suffer a cardiovascular or cerebrovascular injury while responding to an emergency, it’s assumed that the injury is work-related as long as they were “responding to orders under competent authority.” Therefore, they or their surviving loved ones are entitled to workers’ comp benefits unless it can be proven that the condition wasn’t caused by their assigned work activities.
Proposed changes to the law
Some New Jersey state lawmakers are seeking to expand and amend the law to include volunteer emergency workers such as volunteer firefighters, first aid, rescue and police personnel who respond to “circumstances requiring immediate action to prevent the loss of human life, the destruction of property, or the violation of the criminal laws….the suppression of a fire, a firemanic drill, the apprehension of a criminal, or medical and rescue service.”
Further, the rebuttable presumption would apply to cardiovascular or cerebrovascular injuries suffered not just while they were responding to an emergency but up to 24 hours after a qualifying event is over. The amendment would also remove the caveat that they must have been responding to orders when dealing with an emergency.
It’s important to note that one way the presumption that such an injury would be covered by workers’ comp is if a person was engaged in any of the following: “horseplay, skylarking, self-infliction, voluntary intoxication, and illicit drug use.”
The proposed bill that would expand the law is still making its way through the state legislature. As such, it’s critical to know the current law and your rights under it if you’re injured while doing your job or as a result of your work.
Work-related harm isn’t always an easy thing to prove – especially with something like a heart attack or a stroke. If you’re having challenges as you seek to file a workers’ comp claim or to get a claim approved, it can help to seek experienced legal guidance to protect your rights and more effectively make your case.