Some professions carry inherent risk of bodily harm or emotional trauma. This is especially true for careers in public administration.
In Pennsylvania, over half of all injuries that occur within public administration impact law enforcement, public safety officers, and other first responders (55.4%, the most of any category within public administration). Injuries to the upper extremities are most common, followed closely by the lower extremities.
However, head injuries also occur, and some incidents result in multiple injuries. The most common injuries are sprains and strains, and the leading cause of injuries is overexertion.
The physical nature of health and public safety officers’ work also puts them at risk for dangers such as car accidents and physical assault, and the high stress can lead to problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Benefits for Health and Public Safety Officers
In Pennsylvania, there are laws for workers’ injuries specific to health and safety officers, such as police officers and firefighters. The Pennsylvania Heart and Lung Act (also known as the Enforcement Officer Disability Benefits Law) provides an officer injured in the performance of their work full salary benefits, in addition to covering medical expenses. To be eligible for the PA Heart and Lung Act, the injury must prevent the employee from carrying out the essential duties for their job. The PA Heart and Lung Act only provides for those who are suffering from temporary injury or illness and who will later return to work.
If the time frame of benefits under the PA Heart and Lung Act expires, the police officer or fire safety officer can apply for workers’ compensation. Like most Pennsylvania employees, the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act grants compensation for medical expenses, wage loss, permanent disability, and death benefits. Make sure to speak with a lawyer before filing any claim, such as social security, workers’ compensation, or for the Heart and Lung Act. Your claim to benefits under one could affect your eligibility for another. A lawyer will be able to guide you through this process.
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf has signed into action additional coverage for police and first responders for illness due to COVID-19. Passed on April 29, 2020, Act 17 provides health and safety personnel full salary benefits for up to 60 days for loss of work due to a COVID-19 diagnosis or exposure-related quarantine. A positive COVID-19 test is not required.
Public Safety Officers and Workers’ Compensation Claims
A workers’ compensation claim for health and safety officers could be denied for various reasons. Make sure to properly report your injury, and promptly, even if at the time you do not intend to seek compensation or benefits. You must tell your doctor that the injury was work-related, and be aware that in some counties (such as Philadelphia) officers must seek non-emergency treatment at an approved City Network Provider in order to be reimbursed.
Proving a psychological or emotional injury, such as PTSD, can be especially challenging depending on the cause. The law sees a difference if the mental health condition is strictly an emotional reaction to a non-physical event(s) or a result of a physical injury. The Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act generally requires one to prove abnormal working conditions if one is alleging a mental health injury in the absence of physical trauma. You will still have to prove a condition, caused by an injury in the course of employment or related thereto, but if there is no physical trauma you would also have to show abnormal working conditions, not usually incident to your employment. Typically, PTSD is a result of a physical trauma but if it is due to the stressful nature of an officer’s work, proving these conditions can be difficult. However, a recent bill by two Pennsylvania state senators is trying to change this.
The very nature of health and safety officers’ jobs puts their physical and mental health at risk. If you or a loved one has been injured while on duty as a police officer or first responder, we will help you receive fair and just compensation for loss of earnings, damages, and medical expenses. Contact Dugan & Associates today online or by telephone at 412-353-3572 to speak with a knowledgeable Pennsylvania worker’s compensation lawyer to get the treatment and compensation you deserve.