First Responder Injury
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New Jersey First Responder Injury Attorneys
New Jersey first responders put themselves in precarious situations in response to calls for assistance – be it firefighters, EMTs (Emergency Medical Technicians), or the police. It’s their job, and because it is their job, they too can be injured while on the job.
While emergency personnel respond to any call for assistance, they also have the right to expect that the property they are responding to is reasonably safe. e.g., a burning office building or a home’s stairwell is falling down and cannot be used safely due to someone’s negligence.
First Responder Injury Statistics
First responders sustain serious injuries every single day. On average, 29 fatal ambulance accidents result in 33 fatalities nationwide each year. However, Emergency Medical Services (EMS) personnel (e.g., ambulance or paramedic services) are at a higher risk of crashing when compared to other first responders. This often occurs as they are traveling at a very high rate of speed to reach the scene of an accident.
According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), there were 16,900 first responder injuries nationwide in 2020. For further, more detailed information, consult the following charts found HERE. The numbers are extraordinarily serious, as first responders put their lives on the line for every emergency they attend.
There are an estimated 6,500 accidents nationwide involving ambulances each year, and approximately 2,600 people are injured in 1,500 ambulance accidents every year. Of those killed in an ambulance accident, 21 percent were passengers in the ambulance, 4 percent were ambulance drivers, 63 percent were occupants of a passenger vehicle, and 12 percent were non-occupants.
Common Injuries First Responders Can Sustain
While responding to calls, first responders may be hurt in the line of duty in the following ways:
- Broken bones
- Degloving injuries
- Dislocated joints
- Facial injuries
- Hearing loss
- Ligament sprains/tears
- Muscle strains
- Nerve injuries
- Overexertion injuries
- Puncture wounds
- Repetitive stress injuries
- Soft tissue injuries
- Smoke inhalation
- Spinal cord injuries
- Toxic exposure
- Traumatic brain injuries
- Tendon strains/tears
- Vision loss
Risks New Jersey Police Officers May Face
New Jersey police officers face many risks and hazards on the job. Some of them include:
- Violence perpetrated by criminals, such as being shot, stabbed, beaten, or run over.
- Injuries sustained during training drills.
- Being involved in a car accident, either while in pursuit of a suspect or while driving during a workday (which may result in a third-party claim against the other driver).
- Being accidentally shot by another officer is referred to as friendly fire.
- Being injured while responding to a call and the premises are not maintained safely; e.g. Slip-and-fall accident, or a trip-and-fall accident (which may result in a third-party claim against the property owner).
- Medical injuries related to stress, such as heart attacks or strokes.
Types of Injuries New Jersey Firefighters May Face
New Jersey firefighters face many risks and hazards on the job. Some of them include:
- Burn injuries
- Smoke inhalation
- Lung damage
- Injuries sustained from an explosion
- Impact damage from falling objects and debris
- Spinal cord, leg, and back injuries from lifting heavy objects/people
- Slip-and-trip falls due to premises liability hazards
- Medical injuries induced by stress
- Injuries sustained during training drills
Types of Workers’ Compensation Benefits for New Jersey First Responders
First responders in New Jersey are employees and cannot sue their employer for injuries sustained on the job. Injured first responders must file a workers’ compensation claim for benefits. However, there are circumstances where an injured first responder can sue a negligent third party for causing an accident.
An example would be if a police officer was injured while responding to a call and fell down a flight of stairs due to a guardrail not properly affixed to a wall and sustained a traumatic brain injury, they can file a workers’ compensation claim and potentially sue the third party property owner under the doctrine of premises liability. This means an injured first responder has the potential to file a workers’ compensation claim and a personal injury claim, which could mean greater benefits available for recovery.
- Medical expenses covered – For all medically necessary, reasonable treatment and rehabilitation.
- Temporary Disability Benefits (TDB) – Receive 70 % of their average weekly wages for days missed from work.
- Permanent Partial Disability Benefits (PPD) – Payments for a first responder who suffers a permanent impairment of bodily function, but can still work. Benefits are calculated according to the type and degree of impairment or disability.
- Permanent Total Disability Benefits (PTD) – If the claimant is determined to be permanently totally disabled, they continue to receive 70% of their average weekly wage.
In New Jersey, if a first responder files a personal injury lawsuit in the wake of injuries caused by a negligent third party, they may also recover compensation by seeking:
- Loss of income by being off duty.
- Loss of potential income if the first responder is permanently disabled.
- Medical expenses for rehabilitation and treatment of illness.
- Expenses to cover long-term care and support for a permanent impairment or disability.
- Compensation for lost quality of life, reduced life expectancy, disfigurement, and pain and suffering.
New Jersey Statutes Relating to Workers’ Compensation for First Responders
New Jersey Statute NJSA 34: 15-43 offers workers’ compensation benefits to certain public officials who may be considered volunteers. Factually, many New Jersey cases arise due to volunteers who are not paid a salary but are covered for workers’ compensation by statute. Public officials must be injured doing a public duty or performing an official duty who may be considered to be volunteers include:
- Appointed and elected individuals.
- Members of the Board of Education.
- Volunteer rescue squad workers, firefighters, and first aid workers.
- Auxiliary or reserve police officers.
The statute offers protection for volunteer firefighters and volunteer rescue squad workers, including those being injured while:
- Working on authorized construction, such as maintenance, repair, alteration, and installation on the premises, equipment, and apparatus owned by the first responder’s squad.
- Participating in an authorized parade, showing, fundraiser, exhibition, or public drill.
- Providing aid and assistance in the event of a fire.
NJSA 34: 15-43.2 also covers presumptions that do not apply in the public sector. For example, this section provides for volunteer and paid firefighters to receive a presumption of compensability for respiratory diseases arising during active duty. Put another way, the burden of proof is on the employer to disprove that respiratory issues are work-related. This “presumption” also applies to first responders who suffer a stroke or heart attack while on the job. (NJSA 34:15-7.3)
To further bolster the important changes to protect first responders injured on the job was the passage of the Thomas P. Canzanella Twenty-First Century Act (TCTFCA) in 2019. It covers volunteer, paid, or unpaid first responders for exposure to communicable diseases, biological toxins, epidemics, and pathogens. Additionally, there is the presumption in cancer cases under this Act, and the burden of proof rests with the employer that the cancer was “not” related to work.
In 2019, two bills were signed into New Jersey law amending the state’s workers’ compensation law for first responders. The law reformed the state workers’ compensation to create a rebuttable presumption of coverage for public safety workers (first responders) for certain illnesses.
Third-Party Claims for New Jersey First Responders
In New Jersey, the law states that police, firefighters, and other first responders are entitled to compensation if the negligent actions of another – a property owner or driver – result in them sustaining injuries. This is referred to as a third-party claim. There are multiple avenues to pursue compensation for an injured first responder, which can make a claim complicated. At the Todd J. Leonard Law Firm, we know exactly what to do and guide each injured responder every step of the way to their claim(s) successful completion.
Historically, the common law doctrine banning first responders from seeking damages from a property owner after sustaining a personal injury was struck down by the Supreme Court of New Jersey in 2007. The “Firefighters’ Rule” was created by a series of court decisions starting in 1960. It did not preclude first responders from filing a workers’ compensation claim, but they were not permitted to ask for compensation for their injuries from a property owner, even in the face of the owner’s negligence.
The rule stayed in the book until 1993, when the New Jersey State Legislature passed a statute revising the Firefighters’ Rule, allowing them to file lawsuits for injuries sustained while on the job. Despite the rule change, insurance companies argued that first responders could not file claims for personal injuries.
In Ruiz v. Mero, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that the legislative intent was to abolish the Firefighters’ Rule. Now, emergency responders have the same rights as other New Jersey citizens to file a personal injury claim to seek damages for injuries caused by the careless conduct of property owners.
First responders are entitled to other benefits, including workers’ compensation for injuries sustained. For instance, there are several situations where an injured first responder may claim compensation against a third party. They include:
- Defective or Dangerous Products – If a first responder is hurt by a dangerous or defective product, the designer and maker may be held responsible for the first responder’s injuries.
- Dog Bites – Dog owners are responsible for the actions of their canines, and a nasty bite can cause serious injuries to police officers or firefighters responding to a call.
- Car Crashes – First responders can be involved in accidents caused by DUI/DWI drivers and/or negligent drivers. Thirty-five percent of crashes resulted in injury or fatality to at least one vehicle occupant. Virtually 60 percent of ambulance accidents happen during emergency use.
- Negligent Property Owners – If a property has been negligently maintained, and a first responder is injured responding to a call, the injured responder is entitled to file a compensation claim. When injuries do happen, on average, they involve three unique injuries per accident.
Speak with a New Jersey First Responder Personal Injury Claim Attorney
Contact the Todd J. Leonard Law Firm to speak with one of our New Jersey personal injury lawyers who will ensure your rights are protected. Todd Leonard is a Platinum Sponsor, Member, and Trustee of The 200 Club of Morris County, an organization which supports and honors police officers, first aid squad members, firefighters, the New Jersey State Police, and other first responders and their families. If you or someone you know has been injured in a first responder-related job, call our Headquarters at (973) 920-7900 for a FREE and confidential consultation. We also provide Spanish-bilingual services.
We aggressively represent every client we serve, ensuring they recover the benefits they need to move on with their lives after a serious accident while on the job. Whether it be through a workers’ comp claim and/or a third-party personal injury case, our worker’s compensation and personal injury lawyers will help you navigate the complexities of the process, so you can focus on your recovery. We have recovered over $100 million for our clients and can effectively negotiate on your behalf with even the largest insurance companies. We have successfully served thousands of clients throughout New Jersey. You can also connect with us through our online form. There is never a fee unless we win. We have two conveniently located offices in Denville and Morristown, New Jersey.
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Being injured or having a family member injured can have serious and lifelong consequences. We can try to ease the burden. Contact us today to learn more about how our team of experienced New Jersey accident attorneys can support you through these challenging times.