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First Responders Workers’ Compensation

State and federal compensation laws protect firefighters, first responders, and law enforcement. These professionals face daily risks that employees in other lines of work do not. Therefore, numerous unique benefits are in place to protect these employees and their families.

What is a first responder?

The term “first responder” refers to a firefighter, law enforcement officer, emergency medical technician, paramedic, or other individuals (including employees of legally organized and recognized volunteer organizations, whether compensated or not), who respond to fires, medical, hazardous material, or any other similar emergency.

First Responders Workers’ Compensation cases are never simple

First Responders Workers’ Compensation cases are never simple

If you are a first responder, it is wise to have a general overall understanding of first responders’ workers’ compensation rights in the event of an injury or illness.

However, it is also important to keep in mind that compensation cases are never simple and straightforward. Navigating first responders’ compensation laws requires the guidance and expertise of an experienced and specialized lawyer to ensure that your rights as an injured employee are fully protected and realized under the law.

Do I need to contact a lawyer if I am injured or experience illness as a first responder?

Should you experience an injury or illness due to your line of work, you want to contact your lawyer immediately as a lot of money, healthcare services, and security for you and your family may be at stake. Proper documentation, the timing of your compensation filings, and legal follow-up are all critical to the success of your case.

There are numerous state and federal benefits available to first responders

As a firefighter, first responder, or law enforcement officer, you want to apply for all the federal and state benefits for which you are eligible. Except for the cancer fund, the receipt of one set of benefits does not disqualify you from receiving benefits under other programs.

The statutes outlining first responder benefits are extensive and full of legal language. The application process can be onerous. Wilson, Reives, Silverman & Doran is here to assist you with a first responder attorney to develop a strategy for applying for all the benefits that the law permits you and to make sure all your applications are filled in properly.

Below we have outlined the main highlights of each of the statutes for your general knowledge:

1. NC Workers’ Compensation (NC Gen. Stat. Chapter § 97-1. et seg.)

Benefits under this statute are administered by the NC Industrial Commission and must adhere to the following criteria:

      • Employee must work for an employer with 3 or more employees
      • Must show that the injury arose out of and during the course and scope of first responder work OR show that an illness or disease is characteristic of a particular occupation, excluding ordinary diseases which the general population also acquires. Covid falls under ordinary occupational diseases in North Carolina as there is no presumption that a first responder contracted Covid in the line of duty. Employment must be the causal factor of the development of the disease.
      • 2-year statute of limitations from date or diagnosis or date last worked due to illness, whichever is later
      • Employees who meet the standards can receive up to 500 weeks of ⅔ gross weekly pay if the illness prevents work in any capacity or if no light duty is offered up to a yearly maximum (currently $1,184/week or $5,130.27 per month)
      • Volunteer firefighters are also eligible up to a maximum (currently set at $789.37/week or $3,417.97/mo)
      • There is a 7 day waiting period but reimbursed for those 7 days if out of work for at least 21 days
      • All medical treatments are paid at 100% with no cap on medical benefits
      • 500 weeks of death benefits are awarded to surviving dependents or next of kin
      • Up to $10,000 worth of funeral expenses are awarded
      • An employee must file Form 18 Notice of Accident with NCIC within 2 years
      • Note that most claims are denied initially so a lawyer is typically necessary to appeal
      • The form for applying for these benefits: https://www.ic.nc.gov/forms/form18.pdf 

2. NC Public Safety Employees’ Death Benefits Act (N.C. Gen. Stat §143-166 et seg.)

Benefits under this statute are administered by the NC Industrial Commission and adhere to the following criteria:

      • Benefits under this statute are available to all law enforcement officers, firefighters, rescue squad workers and Civil Air Patrol members who die in the line of duty
      • One-time death benefit of $100,000 to eligible survivors
      • Education benefits for all eligible survivors (see below)
      • There is a presumption for eligibility of benefits if a firefighter dies after contracting many cancers, such as mesothelioma, testicular, small intestine, esophageal, oral, and pharynx among others.
      • There is a presumption of eligibility for benefits if a first responder dies of a heart attack occurring on duty or within 24 hours of responding to an emergency or participating in training exercises
      • The online form for applying for these benefits:  https://www.ic.nc.gov/forms/deathben_9.21.fill.pdf

 

3. Education Benefits (NC Gen. Stat. Chapter 115B)

Benefits under this statute are administered by the NC Industrial Commission and adhere to the following criteria:

        • All spouses and children of a law enforcement officer, firefighter, volunteer firefighter, or rescue squad worker who dies or who is permanently disabled in the line of duty is eligible for this benefit
        • Eligible recipients receive free tuition at any UNC institution for up to 54 months, including universities or community colleges
        • Kids Chance of North Carolina provides scholarships to children of workers seriously or fatally injured on the job

 

4. North Carolina Firefighter Cancer Fund (NC Gen. Stat 58-87A-1 et seg.)

This funding was established by the NC General Assembly for FY 2021-2023 (July 1, 2021 to June 30, 2023) and is administered by VFIS, a private insurance company. Details of this benefit include:

          • A firefighter must have 5 continuous years of service in an NC fire department
          • Firefighter must receive a cancer diagnosis on or after January 1, 2022
          • Any cancer diagnosis is eligible for benefits
          • Claim must be filed before June 30, 2023
          • A one-time payment of $25,000 per diagnosis of cancer with a maximum payment of $50,000 will be granted to eligible employees
          • Medical reimbursement up to $12,000 per diagnosis of cancer (upon submission of medical receipts)
          • 75% of salary or $5,000 per month, whichever is less up to 36 months (after a 6-month waiting period)
          • Volunteer firefighters will receive $1500 per month for up to 36 months (after a 6-month waiting period)
          • Recipient cannot also be receiving workers’ compensation benefits
          • The online claim form for applying for this benefit: https://www.vfisnc.com/ncffcancerbenefitclaims

 

5. Firefighter and Rescue Squad Workers’ Pension and Disability Fund

Benefits are administered by the NC State Treasurer’s Office. Details of this benefit include:

            • Open to all firefighters and rescue squad workers who purchase additional disability benefits
            • Cost for this benefit is $10/month and the member must pay into the system for 20 years to receive a monthly benefit at retirement
            • A firefighter or rescue squad member may apply for the monthly pension after:
              • 20 years of creditable service as a firefighter or rescue squad work
              • Reaching the age of 55
            • A member can terminate membership in the fund at any time and request a refund of payments already made
            • A firefighter or rescue squad worker becomes eligible for pension fund disability retirement after 10 years of creditable service if the member is certified totally and permanently disabled by the pension fund’s Medical Board and can no longer perform the duties of a firefighter or rescue squad worker.
            • A member must still make the $10 per month contribution to the pension fund in order to receive a monthly pension at age 55. However, the $10 contribution is waived if the firefighter or rescue squad worker experiences a line-of-duty disability\
            • This Monthly survivorship benefit is currently $180 beginning the month following the month the firefighter would have turned 55, or the month following death if the age is over 55 until the beneficiary dies
            • The online form: https://orbit.myncretirement.com/

 

6.  Local Governmental Employees’ Retirement System (LGERS) Disability Retirement

This benefit is administered by the NC State Treasurer’s Office. Details of this benefit include:

              • Open to all participants who have 5 years of creditable service
              • Available to all law enforcement who become disabled as a result of a line of duty injury regardless of creditable service
              • Monthly payment to members permanently and completely disabled due to the performance of their usual job
              • Claim must be submitted at least one day but not more than 120 days before disability retirement date
              • Employee must resign from employment
              • Applicant must not yet be eligible for LGERS unreduced retirement benefit
              • Applicant must be certified by State Medical Board as unable to perform duty of job and that inability is likely to be permanent
              • Applicant can receive LGERS disability retirement and workers’ compensation at same time without offsetting the other
              • Online claim forms through Orbit portal:  https://orbit.myncretirement.com/

 

7. LGERS State Pension

This pension benefit is administered by the NC State Treasurer’s Office. Details of this benefit include:

                • An employee member becomes eligible for LGERS on the date of hire and becomes vested upon the completion of 5 years of creditable service
                • A member may retire with unreduced service retirement at:*
                  • Age 65 and completion of 5 years of creditable service; or
                  • Age 60 and completion of 25 years of creditable service; or
                  • Any age upon completion of 30 years of creditable service.
                • An employee is eligible for reduced early retirement benefits at
                  • Age 50 and completion of 20 years of creditable service;
                  • Age 60 (age 55 for firefighters and rescue squad workers) and 5 years of creditable service.
                • A law officer may retire with unreduced service retirement benefits at:
                  • Age 55 and completion of 5 years of creditable service as a law enforcement officer; or
                  • 30 years of creditable service at any age.
                • A law enforcement officer may retire with early retirement benefits at:
                  • age 50 and completion of 15 years of creditable service as a law enforcement officer; or
                  • at any age with 25 years of creditable service, 15 of which has been as a law enforcement officer.
                • The form for this benefit must be signed at least one day and not more than 120 days before the effective retirement date. The retirement date can be the first day of any month.
                • Form for this benefit: https://orbit.myncretirement.com/

 

8. Federal Public Safety Officer’s Benefit Program (34 USC §10281)

This benefit program is administered by the US Dept. of Justice and Bureau of Justice Assistance. Details include:

                  • Open to all law enforcement officers, firefighters or other first responders whose death or catastrophic injury was a direct and proximate result of an injury sustained in the line of duty
                  • This benefit is a one time death benefit to eligible survivors (50% to spouse and 50% split equally among minor children)
                  • Death benefit amount varies by year; currently $165,000+
                  • One-permanent disability benefit for a public safety officer who sustains injuries in the line of duty that permanently prevents the officer from any gainful work in the future
                  • Education benefit for eligible spouse and offspring
                  • Presumptions for death by heart attack, stroke, or vascular rupture
                  • Form for this benefit:  https://bja.ojp.gov/program/psob/benefits

 

9. Federal Social Security Disability Benefit  143 (42 USC & 423)

This disability benefit is administered by the Social Security Administration. Details include:

                    • Open to any individual who has paid in enough in FICA taxes to become fully insured
                    • Standard criteria is an illness or injury that has lasted or is expected to last for at least 12 months or is terminal
                    • Unable to participate in any substantial gainful activity
                    • Medicare eligibility starts 2 years from determination of eligibility for the benefits
                    • Monthly disability benefits start after a 5-month waiting period
                    • Online application:  https://www.ssa.gov/benefits/disability/

Where do I begin filing a third-party lawsuit?

It will not cost you anything to come in for a consultation. At Wilson, Reives, Silverman & Doran, PLLC, all workers’ compensation and personal injury consultations are given free of charge. Our lawyers possess professional legal expertise, enabling them to represent their clients at the highest standard possible. Meeting with an attorney can help you understand your rights in a personal injury/workers’ compensation case, plus the strength of your case.

If you are seeking the benefits you deserve, our attorneys can help you. Those benefits can help you heal from your injury and move forward with your life. Each workers’ compensation and personal injury lawyer at Wilson, Reives, Silverman & Doran is here to provide you with trusted, effective legal counsel.

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