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Workers’ Compensation for Employees Working Outside During California Wildfires

helicopter fighting wildfireAs of September 10, 2020, firefighters were working to contain 29 wildfires across the state of California. Over the first three-quarters of the year, wildfires burned 3.1 million acres in the state, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE).

Firefighters working to contain the wildfires, and people working outside are at risk for serious injuries and long-term health problems, including severe burns, heart disease, cancer and chronic respiratory disease. Prolonged smoke inhalation can also lead to bronchitis, which could progress to pneumonia and be fatal.

If you were injured because of the wildfires, you may be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. Even volunteer firefighters may be eligible, under certain circumstances. Below, learn more about workers’ compensation for people injured by the wildfires.     

Eligibility for Benefits

If you are an employee of a company and you suffer an injury while doing your job, you should be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. This assumes you reported the injury within 30 days and filed your claim before the deadline. In fact, even if you are to blame for your injury, you may still be eligible for benefits.

If your job requires you to be outdoors while wildfires are close by, or while smoke from the wildfires is in the air, you are at risk for suffering health problems related to these hazardous conditions, such as reduced lung function. These health problems may be considered work-related, if you or your attorney can prove you would not have contracted these health problems outside of work.

You may be more prone to suffering health problems from the wildfires if you have certain health problems, such as people with heart or lung conditions. If your Fresno workers’ compensation lawyer can prove the wildfires aggravated your existing health issue, you may be eligible for benefits for the aggravation of that existing health issue.

In fact, even if you have a preexisting health issue, you may be eligible for benefits due to the aggravation of your existing health issue. For example, those whose heart disease or asthma worsened because of their exposure to smoke from a fire may be eligible for workers’ comp benefits.  

However, workers’ compensation benefits are generally not provided to those who were horsing around on the job. For example, if you were burned because you got too close to the fire or were goofing off while the fire was nearby, your workers’ compensation claim is unlikely to be approved.

Workers’ Comp for Firefighters

Just like other employees, firefighters are eligible for workers’ compensation benefits after suffering a work-related injury. Even volunteer firefighters may be able to obtain benefits – for example, they may be able to obtain compensation for a portion of the earnings they lose while not being able to work at their other job that pays them.

If you are volunteering to help fight the wildfires, it is important to report an injury quickly. Waiting tends to make workers’ compensation insurers suspicious.

Firefighters may be eligible for special benefits other workers are not. For example, firefighters can apply for one full year of salary instead of disability benefits, which are only two-thirds of the firefighter’s pre-injury salary.

There are also certain illnesses that are automatically considered to be caused by a firefighter’s work, such as:

  • Tuberculosis
  • Bio-chemical Exposure (which could happen from fires burning chemicals and releasing smoke into the air)
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  • Meningitis
  • Cancer
  • Pneumonia

Seeking Treatment

Sometimes injuries caused by smoke inhalation are not immediately noticeable. Symptoms may develop over time. That is why it is important to seek treatment as soon as you notice symptoms. This can help link your symptoms to your work environment. If you report an occupational disease quicker, your claim may be more likely to be approved.

Injured from the Wildfires? Call Today for Legal Help

The purpose of workers’ compensation benefits is to provide compensation for employees who get hurt doing their jobs. There is a high risk for injury for those working outside in hazardous conditions, such as wildfires.

If you have questions about workers’ compensation, have already filed a claim, or your claim was denied, our attorneys may be able to assist you. With more than 85 years of combined experience, we have a proven track record of recovering compensation for employees injured while doing their jobs.

Partner Timothy D. Bartell is currently president of Central Valley Chapter of the California Applicants’ Attorneys Association.

The consultation with our attorneys is free of charge and there is no obligation to hire our firm. We are not paid unless we recover compensation for your claim.

For a free case evaluation with Berry, Smith & Bartell, a Professional Law Corporation call 1-800-848-6288 today!

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