Pennsauken, NJ (Law Firm Newswire) July 29, 2019 – The New Jersey state Supreme Court ruled recently that volunteer firefighters and other emergency service personnel are entitled to the maximum allowed amount of workers compensation benefits if they are injured on the job, regardless of whether they hold other paying employment.
The case involves a Bridgewater, New Jersey volunteer firefighter Jennifer Kocanowski, who was injured in 2015 at the site of a fire she was helping put out. Kocanowski was carrying heavy equipment when she slipped on ice and suffered broken bones, torn ligaments and nerve damage in her back, leg and foot. She had two surgeries, physical therapy and has been left in daily pain. She also no longer can drive more than short distances.
Kocanowski had previously held paying jobs while also volunteering with the fire department but, when she was injured, she was otherwise unemployed. Nine months after her fall, she filed for the maximum temporary disability payment amount, $855 per week. The township for which she was volunteering denied her application and a judge upheld this decision using case law which stated that temporary disability payments are meant to be a wage replacement. If a person has no wages, they are not entitled to disability.
The New Jersey Supreme Court, however, disagreed and ruled unanimously to change that. The decision stated that the Court interpreted the law liberally in order to provide more protections for volunteer firefighters and emergency workers, who are an integral part of communities across the state, many of which do not have a paid fire department.
“Volunteer emergency work is one of the most admirable things someone can choose to do,” says Scott M. Goldberg, senior litigator at Petrillo & Goldberg Law. “Offering these individuals protection in the form of disability payments after an injury sustained in the line of duty is important.”
Opponents of the ruling claim that it will add excessive costs to municipal budgets. The ruling applies to the more than 30,000 volunteer emergency workers in the state.
Kocanowski will receive the disability compensation she applied for retroactively.
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