New York City firefighters risk their lives, safety, and health on a daily basis serving the public in one of the world's most dangerous occupations. New York's Bravest are dedicated civil servants who deserve to be compensated for injuries sustained in the line of duty. Unlike most workers in the state of New York, FDNY firefighters are not covered by workers' compensation insurance, but they are covered under provisions of New York State General Municipal Law.
If you are a firefighter who has been injured in the line of duty, get in touch with a knowledgeable NY firefighter injury lawyer at Wingate, Russotti, Shapiro & Halperin, LLP, as soon as possible. You may be able to recover compensation for past and future medical expenses, lost wages, future earnings, pain and suffering, and other losses associated with your injuries. We have recovered hundreds of millions in settlements and awards for the injured people we represent. You can have confidence that we have the knowledge, skills, and resources to handle your firefighter work injury claim. Call us today at (212) 986-7353 to schedule a free initial consultation.
Most employees in the state of New York are barred by workers' compensation law from suing their employers for on-the-job injuries. However, New York City firefighters, police, and sanitation workers are not covered by workers’ comp insurance. For many years, New York’s “Firefighter Rule” also barred firefighters from pursuing claims against their employers for on-the-job accidents. While this once made it almost impossible for them to recover the costs of medical bills and lost wages, firefighters do have several options for compensation now.
Claims Against Employers
Under General Municipal Law §205a, New York City firefighters can sue their employers or coworkers for work-related injuries, provided the injury or illness was caused, directly or indirectly, by the neglect, omission, or negligence of another in failing to comply with a statute, rule, or regulation. This law overrides New York’s archaic Fireman Rule. For example, if a firefighter is injured in a fire truck crash caused by the negligence of the truck driver, the injured firefighter can sue the driver (coworker) for damages. If failure to maintain the vehicle caused the accident, the firefighter may have the right to file a claim against his employer.
Under New York General Obligations Law §11-06, New York City firefighters who are injured due to another party's negligence have a right to sue individuals and companies (other than their employer and coworkers) for damages. For example, a premises liability claim could be brought against a property owner if a firefighter was injured because of a broken staircase or other hazardous conditions present on the property. If a drunk driver caused a collision with a fire truck, firefighters injured in the crash could hold the drunk driver liable for injuries and other damages in an auto accident claim. Firefighters may be eligible to receive compensation through their truck’s no-fault insurance, but if their injuries are severe, they may need to seek further damages from the other driver.
Over the last 20 years, the number of firefighter injuries while at the fireground (per 1,000 fires in the U.S.) has stayed pretty much the same, according to data from the National Fire Protection Association. That shows a tremendous lack of focus on firefighter safety in this country, which results in many of our bravest men and women suffering serious injuries while on the job. Certain accidents and injuries are more common than others. These include:
- Overexertion and Muscle Pain: The most common injuries that firefighters suffer are muscle strains and pain from overexertion. This is typically due to the high physical demands placed on firefighters. Proper fitness routines can help offset some of these risks, but firefighters rarely have time to properly stretch or prepare themselves physically before battling a fire or dealing with an emergency situation.
- Falls, Jumps, and Slips: The treacherous conditions that firefighters find themselves in can make slips or trips on debris a common occurrence. The heavy gear and uniforms worn while at a fireground only increase the seriousness of a fall, adding more weight to the body and decreasing control. A fall might not seem too serious, but these kinds of accidents can cause tremendous pain, broken bones, and result in injuries to the spine or brain.
- Exposure to Infectious Diseases: Firefighters are often called to the scene of an accident or event that involves infectious diseases. This can result in firefighters catching the disease. Although some illnesses can be fairly minor, more serious diseases such as hepatitis, meningitis, and HIV can all be transmitted to a firefighter while on the job. The cost and changes in lifestyle from exposure to such a disease are a major difficulty for many firefighters.
- Exposure to Toxic Chemicals: Smoke is already deadly enough, but when certain items burn, they can make it worse. Exposure to hazardous substances such as asbestos and toxic chemicals can be very dangerous, even for firefighters wearing respirators. Some emergency calls also carry the potential for exposure to radiation, which not only causes physical burns but long-term illnesses. Safety precautions can help protect firefighters from these hazards, but injuries can still occur.
- Vehicle Collisions: When going to or coming from a fireground, firefighters often find themselves in danger from other vehicles on the road. Collisions are common, and even though emergency vehicles are larger than most other cars and trucks, the firefighters riding on them can still be injured in a crash. Broken bones, lacerations, and internal injuries can result, or the crash can make injuries from overexertion after battling a blaze even worse.
- Contact with or Struck by an Object: Firefighters are also at risk of being struck by objects while at a fireground. This can include falling objects, as well as stationary machines and other devices that might shift or present a hazard. Pulled muscles, soreness and bruises, lacerations, and broken bones can all result from contact with an object.
Despite years of training and advancements in firefighter gear, New York’s Bravest are always at risk of suffering severe injuries when on-duty. Stepping into a burning building, driving on New York’s busy streets, or reviewing a damaged property can all lead disaster if someone makes a mistake, whether it is a negligent coworker or a third party. Firefighter injuries can range from short-term trauma like broken bones to long-term trauma like lung damage caused by smoke inhalation. Burns are one of the most awful injuries someone can experience, and even with proper surgery, care, and medication, can lead to chronic pain down the line. In either situation, firefighters deserve full compensation for their injuries, to cover any care they need over the course of their lives.
If an accident forces a firefighter to take time off work, then any lost wages should also be honored in a claim. Sometimes, firefighters may be forced to change jobs if their injuries are too traumatic. Given the high costs of housing in New York, this can put them in a precarious situation unless they have significant funds. However, firefighters may be eligible to receive their lost earning capacity if they had to leave their job due to their injuries.
Altogether, a firefighter can pursue compensation for:
- All medical bills, including past and future expenses
- Lost wages
- Lost earning capacity
- Pain and suffering
- Mental anguish
- Loss of enjoyment of life
Prior to New York General Obligations Law §11-06, family members of firefighters could not pursue wrongful death claims if their loved one died while on the job, but since the Firefighter Rule has been overruled, family members now can. In addition, family members of career firefighters may also be eligible for automatic compensation for the loss of their loved one in the line of duty as well as a percentage of his average earnings. It is important for family members to discuss all options with an attorney before agreeing to any payment or settlement, however. There are several parties who may be responsible for your loved one’s death, including an employer or property owner, and our legal team can investigate each group to determine how much you can recover.
Injured firefighters deserve the maximum compensation possible under the various programs for injuries and other damages sustained in the line of duty. Our legal team at Wingate, Russotti, Shapiro & Halperin, LLP, is dedicated to protecting injured workers, and particularly our heroic firefighters who risk so much to safeguard the public.
Our attorneys have more than 50 years of experience handling all types of injury claims and recovering meaningful settlements and verdicts for our clients. When you come to us for assistance, we will give your case the full attention and focus it deserves. You can rely on our New York City injury lawyers for skilled, aggressive, and compassionate representation. Wingate, Russotti, Shapiro & Halperin, LLP, can be reached at (212) 986-7353.