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First responder workers' comp benefits guaranteed under bill

The first time the legislation reached the desk of Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey vetoed it. It's not certain how Christie feels about an amended bill that would make it easier for public safety workers to receive workers' comp benefits. The Senate has given approval to the revised Thomas P. Canzanella 21st Century First Responders Protection Act.

The bill is named after a late Hackensack firefighter who was among the crews exposed to toxins following the September 2001 attack at the World Trade Center. The legislation, outlined on the New Jersey Fraternal Order of Police website, ensures first responders receive medical benefits for certain injuries related to their work.

The governor previously shot down the measure, claiming New Jersey workers' compensation protections already existed to cover public safety workers' claims. The amended bill guarantees medical coverage for paid or volunteer first responders unless an employer can prove an injury, illness, disability or death is not linked to work. The legislation shifts the burden of proof away from victims.

The bill covers first responders' exposure to biological toxins, severe contagions and pathogens from epidemics while on the job. The proposal would guarantee compensation for disease care and treatment, as well as testing for job-related health conditions. Coverage would be available, even for workers who don't test positive for a serious disease.

Most Bergen County workers harmed in the course of employment have the right to file claims through employers for workers' compensation benefits. Each state defines the meaning of "employee." Coverage exclusions may include volunteers and others, like independent contractors and farm workers.

Attorneys are familiar with the limits of workers' compensation coverage and know what other benefits might also be available. In some cases, civil claims are filed to recover compensation from third-parties responsible for a worker's injury, illness or death. A claim assessment is the first step toward compensation.

Source: northjersey.com, "N.J. lawmakers pass workers compensation bill named for late Hackensack firefighter" John Reitmeyer, The Record, Oct. 23, 2014

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