There Shouldn't Be a Timeline on Death

Assembly Bill (AB) 1373, which would extend the time frame within which dependents of active public safety officers who died of certain cancers would be eligible for death benefits, has passed the California Assembly. The bill, which was introduced by Assembly Speaker John A. Perez (D-Los Angeles), is now before the Senate’s Standing Committee on Rules.

AB 1373 modifies what some people consider an outdated 100-year-old standard. Under current law, if a public safety officer becomes ill or injured in the line of duty and dies within 240 weeks (just shy of five years) after the injury or onset of the illness, his or her survivors are eligible to receive a death benefit.  AB 1373 would extended that 240-week period to an as of yet unspecified time period, and calls for a lump-sum $300,000 death benefit (paid to widows and minor children of an active-duty officer) in cases of cancer, tuberculosis and blood-borne illnesses.

There are opposing sides to this bill. Supporters of its passing feel that modern medicine can extend life, and the 240-week statute of limitations imposes a penalty on the survivors. They also feel that it punishes the stricken firefighter or police officer for not dying within what they consider to be an arbitrary timeline.

Those arguing against AB 1373 cite financial concerns, stating that the bill’s passage could increase the frequency of death benefit claims, thus increasing the costs for the state government.

According to preliminary analysis by Mark Priven of Bickmore Risk Services, death benefit claims would increase from 2.6 percent to 14.8 percent, depending on how long the existing deadline is extended. The type of cancer involved must also be taken into consideration when trying to decipher the financial implications of AB 1373, as cancers have varying mortality rates.

“AB 1373 is an effort to level the playing field regarding the most serious of human conditions—death,” says Adam Dombchik, a Workers’ Compensation attorney with Gordon, Edelstein, Krepack, Grant, Felton & Goldstein, LLP (GEK). “The sacrifice of a public safety officer who dies of cancer is equal to that of one who dies in a fire or at the hand of a criminal, and the benefits allowed their survivors should be the same. An arbitrary timeline that doesn’t take into account the advances in modern medicine, among other things, is just wrong. What happens if a firefighter or police officer dies of cancer one week after the 240-week statute of limitations? What do you tell his survivors then?

“We’re in a holding pattern right now. We will have to wait and see what the Senate does with the bill, and, eventually, the governor. GEK will continue to keep you updated on the bill’s progress.
“We at GEK are committed to fighting for justice for those who put their lives on the line every day to ensure our safety.  We are in complete agreement with Lou Paulson, President of the California Professional Firefighters, who said that AB 1373 is about families who shouldn’t be punished because their loved one didn’t die fast enough.’”


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