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Firefighters risk their lives for the safety of all of us. They deserve the services of lawyers who will fight for their legal rights – every bit as hard as they fight for all of us. This article discusses some of the most common injuries that firefighters incur, as well as the types of legal remedies available. Continue reading to learn more about the rights of our brave public servants.
Exposure to Toxic Chemicals
It is well-known that firefighters are exposed to a variety of harmful chemicals and carcinogens in their jobs. For instance, exposure to toxic chemicals can lead to mesothelioma. Firefighters who are suffering from mesothelioma, which is a type of cancer, have an excellent chance of recovering large settlements through legal avenues. Recovery can be either from the company that manufactured or installed the toxin (usually asbestos), or from an asbestos victims’ trust fund.
If the person with mesothelioma has passed away or is still alive there are different benefits to be claimed. Families also suffer the effects of a loved one with Mesothelioma and the struggles that come with cancer for the whole family.
Occupational Stress (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)
One of the challenges of sustaining a mental health injury is that unlike a physical injury, mental health injuries are invisible. They cannot be diagnosed with an MRI or X-ray imaging. They can only be diagnosed by trained mental health professionals. As a result, it is important to talk with a qualified workers’ comp attorney that has experience representing the victims of PTSD – and equally important, an attorney that can competently present the medical evidence on the worker’s behalf. The expertise of a reliable and knowledgeable attorney is critical in reaching the maximum legal settlement in every case.
PTSD affects firefighters, as well as police officers and other public servants, in three main ways. The first scenario is a physical-mental injury, which occurs when someone has a physical injury that causes the employee to also experience a mental health injury. For example, if a firefighter is severely burned during a call and, as a result of the encounter, the firefighter develops PTSD, then the fireman could claim both a physical injury (burn wound) and a physical-mental injury (PTSD).
A second scenario involves mental-physical injuries. This occurs when a mental injury, like chronic stress, causes a physical reaction that results in an injury or disability. For example, if a firefighter develops a heart condition as a result of the extreme stress of his/her work, then the firefighter could claim a mental-physical injury if they can prove that the work-related stress (the mental injury) was the direct cause of the work-related physical injury (heart condition). It should be noted that the mental injury must be extreme and that these cases are very difficult to establish.
The last injury bucket is a that of a mental-mental injury, which can occur when mental stimuli result in a mental health injury. PTSD is the only compensable mental-metal injury under the Minnesota Workers’ Compensation Act, and it only applies if the date of injury was on or after October 1, 2013.
Lifting injuries. The National Fire Protection Association reports that as many as 50 percent of all firefighter injuries are the result of strain or overexertion. Firefighters are required to lift, carry, and push heavy objects, people and equipment as a part of their everyday job duties. In addition, firefighters and first responders cannot always use proper lifting techniques because they are many times performing these duties in uncontrolled environments, such as the cramped space of someone’s bathroom or staircase landing.
Slip, fall, trip injuries. Many firefighters are injured during the course of a fire or medical call when they trip and fall over debris, a fire hose, clutter or on a wet surface. Firefighters must work in all kinds of weather, which means they must work in the ice and snow during Minnesota winters. This leads to many slip and fall injuries on the ice because many times the water from the fire hose will pool and freeze around the firefighters as they work. In addition, firefighters are expected to respond to emergency calls quickly, which may require firefighters to move quickly over ice-laden roads, driveways and parking lots to administer care and transport patients.
Heart attacks. According to the United States Fire Administration, heart attack is the leading cause of death for active-duty firefighters. Firefighting is both a physically and emotionally demanding job. The dangerous work, heavy turnout gear, and extreme stress can cause strain on the heart. This strain, in conjunction with a toxic work environment, can easily cause a heart attack.
The main avenue of legal remedies for injured firefighters and other first responders is through Minnesota Workers’ Compensation Act. Firefighter lifting injuries are both common and compensable workers’ compensation claims. Slip, trip and fall injuries can result in serious injury to firefighters and are similarly compensable under workers’ compensation. If you have a heart attack while working as a firefighter, or at home after a strenuous call or training, you are likely entitled to workers’ compensation benefits.
One common type of workers’ comp. recovery is referred to as a Gillette injury. A Gillette injury is an injury that occurs over the course of time from minute trauma to the body. This minute trauma comes from lifting and carrying heavy objects and people, dragging charged attack lines, using an ax to create ventilation, attending physically demanding trainings and from performing their duties in heavy turnout gear, to name a few. Frequently, firefighters develop degeneration in their neck, back, shoulders, knees and hips much more quickly than the general public.
Legal remedies For PTSD injuries recently received a big boost from the Minnesota Legislature. For PTSD-related injuries that occur starting after December 31, 2019, there is now a presumption for first responders that their PTSD is work-related. A first responder’s PTSD still must meet the required elements in the DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-V), and be diagnosed by a qualified doctor of medicine or psychology for the new assumption to apply. In this scenario, “presumption” means that the court will presume a first responder is entitled to compensation when they suffer from PTSD resulting from on-the-job trauma.
The positions covered by this “first responder presumption” include: licensed police officers, sheriff’s deputies, state troopers, firefighters, paramedics, emergency medical technicians, corrections officers and many more. If you fall under one of these covered positions, and you’ve been diagnosed with PTSD, this new legal presumption may apply in your circumstances.
A similar legal presumption is available regarding workers’ compensation claims when firefighters are exposed to toxic chemicals by their employer at the place where the exposure occurred. If a firefighter develops a certain type of cancer, it is presumed that the cancer was caused by his or her work as a firefighter. If you are a firefighter who develops cancer, even many years after retirement, your medical care and treatment, and even your wage loss may be covered by workers’ compensation. These cases can get complex, especially from a medical standpoint, since mesothelioma often shows up 10 to 40 years after exposure to asbestos. Having an experienced attorney who specializes in cases related to mesothelioma and asbestos on your side gives you the best opportunity in a potential law suit.
Police officers, firefighters, corrections officers and other public employees are entitled to compensation when they suffer a bodily injury while performing their duties. This concept is called Duty Disability Benefits. In order to qualify for Duty Disability Benefits under the PERA Police and Fire Plan or the PERA Correctional Plan, a police officer, firefighter, or corrections officer must demonstrate that they have a condition which they expect will prevent them from performing the normal duties of the position for at least 12 months, and as a direct result of an injury incurred while carrying out inherently dangerous duties. See Minn. Stat. § 353.01, subd .41 and Minn. Stat. § 353E.001, subd, 1.
Health Care Continuations
Minnesota police officers, firefighters, and State Troopers, are uniquely eligible for health insurance continuation benefits under Minnesota Statute §299A.465 if they are determined to be eligible for PERA or MSRS duty disability benefits. This benefit provides for continued health insurance benefits through the police officer’s or firefighter’s employer through age 65, meaning that the employer continues to pay its share of the premium for individual and/or family health care coverage as if they were still with the department. Continued health insurance benefits can be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The Department of Public Safety (DPS) provides a pro rata share for continued health care coverage to the public employer for each eligible officer, firefighter, and qualifying dependents. These funds come from the State of Minnesota’s Public Safety Officer’s Benefit Account and are based on the availability of funds.
Peace Officers Safety Benefits
Minnesota Statute §299A.44 provides a one-time monetary death benefit to dependents or the estate of public safety officers killed in the line of duty on or after January 1, 1973 (see Minnesota Statute §299A.41 to determine eligibility).
Similarly, the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Program (PSOB) provides a death benefit to the eligible survivors of Federal, state or local public safety officers whose death was the direct and proximate result of a traumatic injury sustained in the line of duty (certain fatal, line of duty heart attacks and strokes are also covered). The Program also provides a disability benefit to eligible public safety officers who have been permanently and totally disabled as the direct result of a catastrophic personal injury sustained in the line of duty. The injury must permanently prevent the officer from performing any gainful work.