My Love Of The Law

Are You A Firefighter Or First Responder In Ohio? New Workers' Comp Laws May Give You Benefits

by Alan Medina

Emergency workers in Ohio may soon be able to more easily collect workers' compensation benefits for certain on-the-job injuries. If you're an emergency responder, this is what you should know about how things may soon change:

Ohio firefighters with cancer may be able to automatically collect.

At least as far back as 2006, there's been scientific evidence that connects cancer as an occupational hazard of firefighting. While only 1/2 of a percent of the U.S. population as a whole gets cancer, as many as 3.5 percent of firefighters end up with some form of the disease. At least 32 additional studies have been done that confirm the link.

Despite that, the state of Ohio still requires specific documentation of toxic exposure in order to get a workers' compensation claim for cancer approved. If current bills before Ohio's Senate and House pass, all that will change, making Ohio the 35th state to grant firefighters with cancer a presumption that it is an on-the-job injury. That will change the landscape for those with pending workers' compensation claims or whose previous workers' compensation claims have been denied. 

This change will reflect the growing awareness nationwide that firefighters experience unique dangers and exposure to toxic substances on a regular basis that leads to cancer in ways that may not clearly be understood, but are clearly connected.

Emergency responders in Ohio may be able to collect for PTSD without physical injuries.

PTSD is an anxiety reaction that occurs after someone has experienced or witnessed an emotionally traumatic event, and can be crippling. Sufferers may experience flashbacks of the event, disabling depression, and an inability to concentrate. First responders, by nature of their profession, are forced into traumatic situations all the time and often see first hand the results of horrific accidents, suicides, and murders. 

Right now, Ohio's laws prevent workers of any profession from collecting workers' compensation for post-traumatic stress disorder unless they have also suffered a related physical injury. Even developing PTSD after an on-the-job injury isn't enough to grant a worker compensation unless he or she can prove a direct link between the specific injury and the mental disorder.

For example, a worker who witnessed the death of another worker during an accident was denied workers' compensation for his PTSD, even though he had also been physically injured during the accident. The psychiatric expert testified that the surviving worker's PTSD was a result of what he'd seen, not his physical injuries -- making the PTSD non-compensatable.

The bill before Ohio's senate would apply to firefighters, police officers, and emergency medical technicians, and would allow them to collect for PTSD even in the absence of a physical injury, whether the PTSD is the result of a single event or the cumulative result of repeated trauma.

If you're a firefighter suffering from cancer or a first responder who suffers from PTSD, keep watch on the pending legislation over the next few months. Even if you've previously been denied benefits, these laws could -- if passed -- open the gateway for compensation for your injuries. 

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