First responders have rightfully earned praise and appreciation for their efforts in behalf of victims of COVID-19. Despite a potentially lethal exposure risk and problems securing ample personal protective equipment, these men and women have been reaching out to assist people afflicted by the coronavirus while nearly everyone else has been told to stay at home. Kind sentiments only go so far, however. Some of the emergency medical technicians, police officers and firefighters on the front lines of this fight will be forced to miss work due to the illness while others will lose their lives.
The federal Public Safety Officers’ Benefits (PSOB) program was established to provide compensation to first responders and their families for serious or fatal harm suffered on the job. The program funds disability and death benefits, but the coronavirus is difficult to trace and linking a first responder’s work to their condition could prove to be very difficult. Now, a bill has been introduced in Congress to remedy this situation and offer other valuable assistance to emergency workers and their loved ones. The Public Safety Officer Pandemic Response Act of 2020 addresses:
- Line-of-duty presumption — The proposed law would create a presumption that a disabling injury or fatality occurred in the line of duty as long as the police officer, firefighter or EMT was at work during the timeframe when he or she was stricken with COVID-19. This way, beneficiaries can be paid under the PSOB program without going through a potentially arduous process to show how the virus was contracted.
- Increased access to disability benefits — Should the legislation be enacted, first responders could receive disability benefits if the effects of their COVID-19 illness prevent them from returning to work as public safety officers. This differs from the existing law, which provides payments only if the claimant is totally disabled and unable to perform any gainful employment activity.
- COVID-19 among 9/11 responders — Under the proposed law, public safety officers who were injured or disabled while performing work related to 9/11 would be covered by the PSOB if they contract COVID-19 and if the combined effect of their medical conditions results in total disability or death.
This bill has bipartisan sponsorship in the House of Representatives. As the toll from COVID-19 grows, there may be increased public support for the measure.
If you believe proper compensation has not been paid to a first responder for an injury suffered during the course of their work, Barasch & McGarry can help. Our New York City lawyers have extensive experience and a strong reputation in this area of legal practice. Please call [ln::phone] or contact us online to make an appointment.