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Are Volunteer Firefighters in NJ Eligible for Workers’ Compensation?

Volunteer firefighter in full gear in front of a firetruck.

In New Jersey, a worker who is injured on the job may be entitled to receive workers’ compensation benefits to help treat their injury and make up for lost income if they miss time from work. Normally, workers’ compensation benefits are only available to workers who are employed for compensation or other remuneration. This means that volunteers are typically excluded from the workers’ compensation system. However, case law decided by the New Jersey Supreme Court has ruled that volunteer firefighters can obtain workers’ compensation benefits, even if they have other outside paid employment.

New Jersey Supreme Court Has Ruled Volunteer Firefighters Entitled to Workers’ Comp

Several years ago, the New Jersey Supreme Court handed down its ruling in Kocanowski v. Township of Bridgewater. Kocanowski, who had served as a volunteer firefighter, was severely injured while fighting a fire. She had slipped on ice while carrying equipment, sustaining bone fractures in her foot, a torn meniscus, nerve damage, and back pain. After undergoing two surgeries and extended physical therapy, Kocanowski continued to suffer from pain and disability in her feet, legs, and back and was unable to return to volunteer firefighting or to her paid employment as a nanny or home health aide.

Prior to her firefighting injury, Kocanowski had left her paid employment to care for her parents who had fallen ill. While dealing with family issues, Kocanowski’s home health aide license lapsed. After her accident, Kocanowski applied for workers’ compensation benefits but was denied. The trial court and intermediate appellate court affirmed the denial of her application.

However, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that volunteer firefighters were entitled to workers’ compensation. The court found that the Workers’ Compensation Act authorized benefits for volunteer firefighters injured in the line of duty, noting the legislative history behind the act and its “remedial” purpose. The court also noted the long-standing public policy in New Jersey in favor of the use of volunteer firefighters.

Volunteer Firefighters Can Obtain Maximum Benefits

More than simply holding that volunteer firefighters were entitled to workers’ compensation, the Supreme Court ruled that volunteer firefighters injured in the course of their duties were entitled to the maximum compensation permitted by law and regulation, regardless of the firefighter’s income from outside employment.

The court noted the provision of the Workers’ Compensation Act that stated that volunteer firefighters who did not have outside employment at the time of their firefighting injury could receive benefits “based on their most recent previous income.” However, the court held that a 1952 amendment to the Act had the effect of authorizing the maximum compensation allowed by the workers’ compensation system regardless of a volunteer firefighter’s current or prior outside income. Thus, the Supreme Court recognized that volunteer firefighters were entitled to special protection and benefits under New Jersey’s workers’ compensation system.

If you are a volunteer firefighter injured in the line of duty, you can obtain the maximum benefit rate from workers’ compensation regardless of the outside income you were earning at the time of your injury or that you previously earned.

Contact a Freehold Personal Injury Lawyer to Discuss Your Workplace Injury Case in New Jersey

Were you or a loved one injured due to a workplace accident in New Jersey? Don’t let the medical bills pile up while you wait for the negligent party or their insurance company to do the right thing. Right now, you need an aggressive personal injury attorney on your side, fighting to get you the compensation you need, want, and deserve. The skilled attorneys at New Jersey Workers Compensation Lawyer represent clients injured in Middlesex County, Monmouth County, Ocean County, Passaic County, and throughout New Jersey. Call (934) 200-5372 or fill out our online contact form to schedule a free consultation about your case. We have an office conveniently located at 82 Court St., Freehold, NJ 07728, as well as offices in Toms River and New Brunswick.

The articles on this blog are for informative purposes only and are no substitute for legal advice or an attorney-client relationship. If you are seeking legal advice, please contact our law firm directly.