New Jersey Governor Vetoes First Responder Workers’ Compensation Bill

Recently, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie vetoed a bill that would have guaranteed workers’ compensation benefits for public safety workers – such as police, firefighters and other first responders – by presuming certain conditions or illnesses were caused by on-the-job exposure to dangerous substances or materials.

For instance, the bill would have created the presumption that any public safety worker exposed to hazardous materials, biological toxins or cancer-causing radiation while responding to a catastrophic emergency or terrorist attack would be entitled to New Jersey workers compensation benefits if they subsequently developed any injury, illness, disability, or even worse, subsequently died.

Proponents of the bill – otherwise known as the Thomas P. Canzanella Twenty First Century First Responders Protection Act – argued that such a presumption was necessary for first responders since many of the conditions and illnesses that develop after exposure to such dangerous materials can often take years to manifest themselves.

Thus, it would be virtually impossible for some injured workers to prove that their exposure to hazardous materials years earlier actually caused their current disability or illness since those seeking to prevent benefits could simply argue some other intervening event caused the condition.

However, opponents of the bill were not convinced. In fact, Gov. Christie stated that he vetoed the recent bill because in some instances the bill would have allowed workers’ compensation benefits for “disabilities not tethered in any work-related incident at all.”

Interestingly, these concerns may have been overstated since the bill would have permitted the presumption of workers’ compensation coverage to be rebutted if “clear and convincing” evidence was discovered showing that the injury or disability was not linked to the emergency event. Consequently, this provision would have ensured that those first responders with disabilities or conditions obviously not related to an on-the-job catastrophic emergency would not have been entitled to workers’ comp benefits. However, this provision was clearly not powerful enough to persuade the Governor not the veto the bill.

Fortunately, however, this recent veto does not eliminate or modify the current workers’ compensation rights that New Jersey workers rely on. Accordingly, if you or a loved one has suffered an injury while at work that prevents the performance of essential job duties, it is imperative to contact an experienced workers’ compensation attorney.

A knowledgeable attorney can review the facts of your accident and help lay out your rights and options given your particular circumstances, including whether you may have a viable third party claim based on your work-related accident.

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