Willig, Williams & Davison is privileged to represent people who place themselves at risk each day to protect the rights of others. In times like the current COVID-19 crisis, we are reminded of the risks and sacrifices made by the volunteer fire service/first responders and are grateful for their service.
Over the past week, the spread of COVID-19 has caused most Americans to miss work, work remotely, or otherwise practice “social distancing” in order to protect themselves, their families, and their neighbors from exposure to the virus. However, the volunteer fire service/first responders put their safety aside to continue to protect and serve the public. They have the courage and dedication to engage the public in contaminated environments, which significantly increases their risk of COVID-19 exposure. If they become ill due to their work, members of the volunteer fire service/first responders are protected under the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act.
COVID-19 will be a compensable condition for many groups of employees in Pennsylvania, including the volunteer fire service/first responders. The Pennsylvania Worker’s Compensation Act covers injuries and illnesses that occur “within the course and scope of employment” for all Pennsylvania workers. Volunteer firefighters and EMS responders who encounter the virus as part of their service have a right to claim medical and wage loss benefits.
To protect the volunteer fire service/first responders and ensure that they receive the benefits to which they are entitled, we recommend that affected responders (those who are diagnosed with COVID-19 and/or miss work due to COVID-19 symptoms) provide notice and request Workers’ Compensation benefits from the Volunteer Fire Company and/or municipality they serve as a result of their exposure. This should be done by specifically notifying the VFC or municipality that the virus was contracted due to their service as a first responder. This notice is provided the same way notice would be provided for a work injury such as a broken bone.
When making a claim for COVID-19 under the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act, responders may face unique challenges. While many public employers are doing their best to support their first responders during the COVID-19 crisis, some may seek to avoid responsibility when responders miss time due to the virus. Those employers and their insurance carriers will vigorously defend such claims.
Because of this, it is important to be particularly vigilant when avoiding exposures outside of your service as a first responder. After a claim is filed, municipalities will seek information about the responder’s on and off-duty activities in the weeks and months before the exposure/diagnosis. Please remember that all forms of social media can and will be used to obtain information. Insurance carriers and municipalities may also seek information regarding individuals in the responder’s family or social circle who may have been exposed to, or diagnosed with, the virus. All of this will be done in an effort to establish a cause of the illness outside of the exposures encountered by first responders in the course and scope of their service. As a result, responders making a claim for benefits due to COVID-19 must be prepared to show that all suggested precautions were maintained outside of emergency responses prior to the exposure/diagnosis.
If you have questions concerning COVID-19 exposures, or to make a claim for Workers’ Compensation benefits in connection with COVID-19, please do not hesitate to contact the head of our Workers’ Compensation Department, Michael G. Dryden, Esq., at (215) 656-3645 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org