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Workers’ compensation for volunteer first responders

Law Offices of James M. Curran

First responders run toward the fire, or the crash, or the gun shots. While many are paid employees, many – particularly among firefighters, are volunteers. This is true in New Jersey and around the country. While paid employees are eligible for workers’ compensation if they receive an injury on the job, volunteers have not enjoyed the same protection.

In a recent case, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that volunteers should receive short term disability benefits if they are injured in the line of duty. The decision applies regardless of whether the volunteer is otherwise employed at the time of the injury. Prior to the court’s decision, volunteer first responders only received compensation for injuries if they were employed outside of their volunteer activities.

In order to receive workers’ compensation for an injury received in the line of one’s role as a volunteer first responder, one had to show that the injury caused one to lose income from outside employment at the time of the injury. The case, Kocanowski vs. Bridgewater involved a woman who slipped and fell on an icy surface while carrying equipment to fight a fire. She was denied workers’ compensation benefits because she had no outside employment.

First responders put their lives on the line. In the event of an injury, care should be provided to them as they act to protect citizens’ lives every day with little or no regard for their own safety. A person in New Jersey who has suffered an injury in a volunteer capacity may wish to consult with an experienced personal injury attorney regarding workers’ compensation. An experienced lawyer can review the facts of the case and advise the client as to what legal options may be available.

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