A recent New Jersey bill changed the way first responders are covered under Workers’ Compensation for illnesses on the job. Under the bill, S716, there is a presumption that an illness results from their job, unless their municipal employer can prove otherwise. The new legislation is similar to a program used for firefighters in Los Angeles. Former versions of this bill were vetoed by ex-Governor Chris Christie. The first responders and public safety workers covered under the bill include volunteer and paid firefighters, police officers, emergency medical technicians, corrections officers, and certain medical personnel.
High Cancer Rates Among Firefighters
Approximately 40 percent of career firefighters eventually develop cancer. Under the legislation, firefighters must serve for at least seven years before they are eligible for coverage. Once the firefighter has reached the employment milestone, the bill creates a rebuttable presumption that if a firefighter suffers from illness, fatality, or even an injury that is cancer-related, the cancer is considered an occupational disease and is covered under Workers’ Compensation. However, the bill does allow employers to have workers undergo testing at the employer’s expense to determine whether exposure to carcinogenic materials or other possible causes are linked to illnesses and injuries.
Municipalities Foot the Bill
Under this legislation, the onus is not so much on the insurance companies hired to provide Workers’ Compensation insurance, but the municipalities employing the first responders. There is a concern that the bill will result in higher expenditures for local governing bodies, which will then pass to the taxpayers. However, the bill does include provisions sought by municipalities and insurance companies, including a two-year statute of limitations from the date a first responder is diagnosed with an illness, along with the seven-year employment history.
An Insider’s View
An injured firefighter, who is also a township administrator, was one of five firefighters hurt inside a chemical plant explosion back in 1995. Since then, one of the firefighters has succumbed to cancer and two others were diagnosed and treated for the disease. He supports the presumption of covering such illnesses, but as a township administrator, he is wary of unintended consequences. He says career departments will have the largest costs under the bill, and urban units are the ones suffering the most from a budgetary perspective.
Costs Are Not Quantified
New Jersey’s Office of Legislative Services (OLS) estimates that expenditures will increase for municipalities under the bill but cannot quantify the cost to the state and local governments because the number of people who may submit claims and the amount of those claims are still unknown. The OLS states it does not have enough data on what it will cost for program establishment and record-keeping.
Cherry Hill Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at DiTomaso Law Advocate for Injured Workers
If you or a loved one has been seriously injured in a work-related accident, you need the services of the experienced Cherry Hill Workers’ Compensation lawyers at DiTomaso Law. Call us today at 856-414-0010 or contact us online for a free consultation. We are located in Cherry Hill, New Jersey and we serve clients throughout the state.