Do Volunteer Firefighters Qualify for Workers’ Compensation?
In a year of so much tragic wildfire devastation, California is more appreciative than ever for its brave and selfless volunteer firefighters. These volunteers worked side-by-side with professionals, and helped the firefighters control the fire, save property, and lives.
Unfortunately, fighting fires is dangerous to both professionals and volunteers alike, and in the recent outbreaks, not every volunteer firefighter came away unscathed. Firefighters, of course, are covered by workers’ compensation; and the question on the minds of volunteers and their families is, “What about us?”
California Workers’ Compensation Laws
In California, all employers must maintain workers’ compensation insurance whether they have one employee or hundreds. Workers’ compensation kicks in if a worker gets injured at work, and covers medical bills, lost wages, and disability. Coverage is mandatory for employees, but covering non-employee volunteers is generally optional. This means many volunteer workers are at risk of paying for their job-related injuries themselves.
Good Workers’ Comp News for Volunteer Firefighters
The good news for volunteer firefighters and police officers, however, is that they are exceptions to the rule. Under California law, firefighters and other emergency service volunteers are considered to be employees, and workers’ compensation insurance will usually cover a volunteers’ work-related injuries.
It is important for a volunteer firefighter who was injured in the recent California wildfires to report the incident to fire department officials as soon as possible. Prompt reporting is required by the Division of Workers’ Compensation (DWC), the agency who considers a workers’ request for compensation. The claim will most likely be accepted by the DWC if it is shown that the volunteer’s injury happened in the line of duty, such as while fighting the wildfire.
Workers’ Compensation Options for Volunteer Firefighters
When a volunteer firefighter files a claim through the workers’ compensation system, he or she may be entitled to compensation for loss of earnings from his or her “day job.” Even though most volunteers don’t receive wages for their volunteer work, they likely have other employment, and as a result of the injuries sustained while volunteering, they may be unable to report to their paying job.
California laws guarantee that volunteer firefighters receive wage loss benefits based on the statewide average weekly wage for workers. This is slightly different than the benefit an employee would receive, which is equal to two-thirds of the actual weekly wage.
Long Workers Compensation Lawyers
If for some reason you are told you do not qualify for workers’ compensation as an injured volunteer firefighter in California, seek help from a lawyer. There may be other means of recovery, such as bringing a personal injury lawsuit. If a loved one died while volunteering to fight fires, a wrongful death lawsuit can often yield a higher amount of compensation than a workers’ compensation claim.
We owe a huge debt of gratitude for the bravery and selflessness of volunteer firefighters. They should not have to pay for their work-related injuries out-of-pocket. In some ways, they are more at risk of serious injuries in comparison to professional firefighters because they don’t receive the amount of training and may not have the same level of protective equipment available to them.
If you or your family member was injured in the course of fighting the recent fires as a volunteer, our attorneys will be glad to advise you of your best avenue for recovering lost wages and to ensure that your medical and rehabilitation costs are covered.
Free Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Consultation: 800-964-8047