The wildfires in California have proven to be the deadliest on record. As the firefighters on the coast do whatever they can to keep residents safe, our minds turned to our own First Responders and firefighters, who faced similar conditions this April against the 34 Complex and Rhea megafires.
In Oklahoma, we have both paid firefighters and volunteer firefighters, and both groups have compensation programs available to them. Paid firefighters are covered under the Oklahoma Workers Compensation Act, which is the same Act that covers all eligible employees across the state. Volunteer firefighters, however, are not employees. Therefore, if they sustain injuries, they must make a claim under the Volunteer Firefighter Group Insurance Pool. The pool is also run by the state (at least, it is for now).
What injuries are covered under the laws?
In Oklahoma, an eligible employee or volunteer can make a claim for:
- Medical benefits
- Wage loss benefits (temporary disability, or permanent disability)
- Lump sum benefits for permanent scarring or loss of limb
- Vocational rehabilitation benefits
If a worker dies, the spouse or children may make a claim for death benefits to cover costs associated with a funeral or burial. Injured workers cannot, however, make a claim for their pain and suffering.
What types of injuries are covered?
Both programs cover on-the-job injuries – but as you know, firefighters have jobs that are far more dangerous than most others. An injured firefighter may be entitled to compensation for:
- Crushing injuries
- Fall injuries
- Toxic inhalation (including smoke, ash, or organic matter)
- Repetitive stress injuries related to climbing ladders, carrying fire hoses, or other job requirements
- Injuries sustained because of acts of violence against the firefighter
- Long-term complications from heat stroke or dehydration
Another common claim for firefighters is emotional trauma, or psychological distress. Normally, Oklahoma does not allow employees to collect for “mental injury or illness.” Under the law, “A mental injury or illness is not a compensable injury unless caused by a physical injury to the employee, and shall not be considered an injury arising out of and in the course and scope of employment or compensable unless demonstrated by a preponderance of the evidence; provided, however, that this physical injury limitation shall not apply to any victim of a crime of violence” (emphasis ours).
For a firefighter, however, things could be different. Any skilled Oklahoma workers’ compensation lawyer should be able to provide the preponderance of evidence that a firefighter’s mental health has been affected by the job (or volunteer work) that he or she does. Oklahoma has allowed these claims to go forward in the case of certain emergency service workers and First Responders, so it possible that you may be able to make such a claim, too.
When should a firefighter make a personal injury claim instead?
Sometimes, workers’ compensation just isn’t enough to cover your bills. For volunteers, this is a real and pressing concern, as recent budget cuts to the program have made it more difficult to get the compensation they need to recover from their injuries. In order to make a successful third-party claim for injuries, you would need to prove that someone else’s negligence is responsible for the injuries you have. This might include:
- Being misled about what the interior of a building on fire actually looks like
- Being a victim of an act of violence
- Sustaining an injury caused by defective equipment
- Being forced to enter a building that should have been deemed unsafe for entry
- Getting into an accident while in a fire truck or in an emergency services vehicle
Firefighters are real-life heroes, and they deserve the best possible treatment they can receive. If you are a firefighter who has been injured on the job, and you believe someone else’s negligence is to blame for your injuries, call Cunningham & Mears today. Our Oklahoma City injury lawyers can advise you on the best course of action. Please contact us or call 405-232-1212 today for a free initial consultation.