North Carolina firefighters, first responders, and their advocacy groups just hit a firewall in their fight for additional workers’ compensation benefits. Despite impressive lobbying, two bills designed to help first responders collect workers’ compensation benefits are stalled, at least for now.
What was the problem?
- Firefighter cancer
Under current North Carolina workers’ compensation law, there are two ways for a worker diagnosed with cancer to be covered: 1) the type of cancer is listed in the statute as an occupational disease, or 2) the type of cancer is not listed, but the employee proves that the job increased the worker’s risk of developing the condition. Asbestosis, for example, is a listed condition. Lymphoma, however, is not a listed condition. That means that if a firefighter develops lymphoma and believes it was related to the job, he or she bears the burden of providing expert medical evidence of causation. This burden is time-consuming and costly, often leading to delayed medical treatment and disability benefits. If the type of cancer is listed as an occupational disease, the worker many collect benefits more easily and quickly.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
First responders experiencing trauma in the workplace often develop mental symptoms, such as flashbacks, depression, anxiety, and social disorders but do not develop any physical symptoms. These folks often have trouble convincing the workers’ compensation insurer that they suffer from a compensable condition and need treatment.
What were the new laws?
House Bill 520, known as the “Cancer Presumption Law,” would have added nine different cancers as occupational diseases. It would have applied to both paid and volunteer firefighters with at least five years of firefighting.
House Bill 622 would have provided workers’ compensation coverage for a diagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder suffered by law enforcement officers, firefighters and emergency management services (EMS) workers, even if their mental injury was not accompanied by a physical injury.
In early May, 2019, both bills passed the North Carolina House of Representatives and were sent to the state Senate. On May 6, 2019, the Senate voted to refer the bills to the Committee on Rules and Operations. According to a legislative report by the NC Sheriff’s Association, that Committee “often serves as leadership’s dumpster for unpopular proposals.” In other words, only rarely does a bill emerge from that Committee and end up being passed. Therefore, many first responders and their advocacy groups are deeply disappointed by this turn of events.
The workers’ compensation attorneys at Ricci Law Firm will continue to monitor the progress of these bills and will continue to fight for the rights of sick and injured first responders. If you feel strongly about these bills, please reach out to your local state senator to show your support.
Workers’ Compensation Lawyer serving Greenville and Raleigh
I’m Brian Ricci, a workers’ compensation lawyer serving Greenville and Raleigh. If you or a loved one has sustained an injury at work, please call me at (252) 777-2222 or 800-387-6406 for free, friendly advice.
I am a longtime member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum.