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New Jersey expands first responder workers’ comp benefits

On Behalf of | Jul 8, 2024 | Serious and Catastrophic Injuries

Increasingly, lawmakers across the country are recognizing the physical and emotional toll that working as a first responder takes on the body and mind. In some cases, an injury or other medical condition caused by this work may not be immediately apparent, but it’s still a result of their job.

This January, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed a law that makes it easier for New Jersey first responders to get workers’ compensation if they suffer a heart attack or stroke after their shift has ended. It expands the “rebuttable presumption” previously included in the law that if a first responder suffered a medical event while they were dealing with an emergency, it was presumed to be caused by their work. The burden was on the employer or workers’ comp insurer to show otherwise. 

Rebuttable presumption period extended

Under the new law, any medical events that occur within 24 hours after the first responder’s shift is over qualify for this rebuttable presumption. The legislation was drafted after the family of an emergency medical technician (EMT) was unable to get workers’ comp after he died from a heart attack hours after responding to a collision involving his own daughter.

The president of the Professional Firefighters Association of New Jersey explained the need for the change, saying, “The work of our members, firefighters, EMTs, and paramedics is physical in nature, and when you add the emotional and environmental stressors that we bring home after our shift, our bodies are negatively impacted hours and days after the response is over.”

Coverage extended to volunteer first responders

The new law also extends workers’ comp benefits to volunteer first responders. Specifically, “volunteer firefighters and police officers and members of a volunteer first aid or rescue squad are eligible for compensation,” according to a statement from Gov. Murphy’s office.

It’s crucial for all first responders and their families to know their rights under the state’s workers’ compensation laws. Don’t assume that your employer or their insurance company will always do the right thing. If you have questions or concerns when dealing with a workers’ comp matter, it can feel like you’re fighting a massive bureaucracy. Having legal guidance can help you get the benefits to which you’re entitled.