In exchange for keeping the rest of us from harm the workers compensation system in most states gives the advantage to those frontline workers, the first responders, that are injured or killed in the line of duty when it comes to claiming compensation -- even after they have left the job.
“Thank God there is someone willing to climb that ladder when your house is on fire,” says attorney Jeff Stern. “I am thankful to those people like prison guards who go to work every day in facilities with people they know can be dangerous. These are the people in our society who are willing to work in jobs that are full of risks and danger.”
Attorney Jeff Stern, from the law firm of Mallery & Stern, has focused his entire law practice on working with state employees that can be generally described as California state employees who work in first responder roles.
“These are all government employees who are there to protect the public – when the ship goes down they are the front line defense,” says Stern.
Generally speaking these are police officers, firefighters, prison guards, highway patrol officers, forestry workers, or other state employees who go to work every day with the certain knowledge that their health and life is constantly on the line.
In California, these kinds of workers are covered under Section 3212 of the California Labor Code (CLC). It provides certain “presumptions”. That presumption is the disease or health problem they develop, in certain cases, is related to the work they performed.
It means that a state worker who worked a job considered hazardous under the CLC Presumptions section has the right to claim compensation without having to wage a complicated legal battle through the court system.
The law makes clear that “a presumption is disputable and may be controverted by other evidence, but unless so controverted, the appeals board is bound to find in accordance with it.
“It is a rebuttable presumption,” explains Stern, “but the law shifts the burden from the employee to insurance provider or the employer. This is the government’s way of saying -- we understand your job is stressful and there are certain dangers and so we are going to ease the burden of proof.
“If you are an elected official and you are assassinated there is a presumption that it is work related,” says Stern.
It is, however, vastly more likely that workers with a right to claim compensation under the presumption section of the California Labor Code will have more common medical issues.
“The California Labor Code presumptions deal not only with heart attacks but also hernias, and pneumonias, tuberculosis, low back issues, and mrsa (an antibiotic resistant type of staph infection), or stress accumulated on the job that leads to a stroke or clot,” says Stern. “It deals with all these types of medical issues and more, but the unifying force in these kinds of claims is the illness they developed is connected to the job.”
For example, it is well documented that firefighters have a high risk for respiratory problems, certain types of cancers, heart attacks and strokes. What many first responders or sworn officers don’t realize is that they may be entitled to compensation even when health problems develop after they have left the job.
The California Labor Code makes clear that “the presumption shall be extended to a member following termination of service for a period of three calendar months for each full year of the requisite service, but not to exceed 60 months in any circumstance, commencing with the last date actually worked in the specified capacity”.
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It is important to note that some other types of jobs may be entitled to the same type of claim – such as nurses who work in stressful situations or work shift work.
Stern has dealt with hundreds of these kinds of claims. As he sees it, these individuals who put their lives and future health on the line deserve much consideration.
“When shots are fired you and I are running away from this. I am running and ducking,” says Stern. “Thank god there are cops who do that. It is an honor to be able to work for these individuals.”