New Worker's Compensation Laws Positively Impact First Responders

California's 2017-2018 legislative session recently came to a close after state lawmakers debated roughly 900 bills, two of which related to the state's Workers' Compensation system—Assembly Bill (AB) 1749 and Senate Bill (SB) 1086. Governor Jerry Brown signed these into law, a step that could have a profound effect on first responders.  

AB 1749 –  Out-of- State/Off-Duty Access to Workers' Compensation Benefits

This bill was introduced by Assemblyman Tom Daly (D-Anaheim) in the aftermath of the October 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in which 58 people were killed and 851 were injured. Among the injured were four Orange County sheriff's deputies whose Workers' Compensation claims were denied because they were off-duty concertgoers and out of state when they sustained their injuries. AB 1749 changes the language in Labor Code 3600.2 to allow an employer to cover such cases in the future, and specifically includes those injured in the Las Vegas mass shooting.

California Workers' Comp Laws for First Responders

Section 3600.2 of the Labor Code is amended to read:

"(a) Whenever any peace officer, as defined in Section 50920 of the Government Code, is injured, dies, or is disabled from performing his or her duties as a peace officer by reason of engaging in the apprehension or attempted apprehension of law violators or suspected law violators, or protection or preservation of life or property, or the preservation of the peace, anywhere in this state, including the local jurisdiction in which he or she is employed, but is not at the time acting under the immediate direction of his or her employer, the peace officer or his or her dependents, as the case may be, shall be accorded by the peace officer's employer all of the same benefits, including the benefits of this division, that the peace officer or his or her dependents would have received had that peace officer been acting under the immediate direction of his or her employer. Any injury, disability, or death incurred under the circumstances described in this section shall be deemed to have arisen out of and been sustained in the course of employment for purposes of workers' compensation and all other benefits.

(b) Nothing in this section shall be deemed to:

(b)(4) Preclude an employer, at its discretion or in accordance with written policies adopted by resolution of the employer's governing body, from accepting liability for compensation under this division for an injury sustained by a peace officer, as defined in Section 50920 of the Government Code, by reason of engaging in the apprehension or attempted apprehension of law violators or suspected law violators, or protection or preservation of life or property, or the preservation of the peace, outside the state of California, but who was not at the time acting under the immediate direction of his or her employer, including any claims for injuries sustained by peace officers during the October 1, 2017, mass shooting in Las Vegas, Nevada, if the employer determines that providing compensation serves the public purposes of the employer. For claims filed pursuant to this paragraph by peace officers for injuries sustained during the October 1, 2017, mass shooting in Las Vegas, Nevada, the date of injury for purposes of subdivision (a) of Section 5405 shall be deemed the operative date of the act adding this paragraph. Acceptance of liability under this subdivision shall not affect the determination of whether or not the peace officer acted within the scope of his or her employment for any other purpose."

California's 2017-2018 legislative session recently came to a close after state lawmakers debated roughly 900 bills, two of which related to the state's Workers' Compensation system—Assembly Bill (AB) 1749 and Senate Bill (SB) 1086. Governor Jerry Brown signed these into law, a step that could have a profound effect on first responders. AB 1749 – Out-of- State/Off- Duty Access to Workers' Compensation Benefits This bill was introduced by Assemblyman Tom Daly (D-Anaheim) in the aftermath of the October 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in which 58 people were killed and 851 were injured. Among the injured were four Orange County sheriff's deputies whose Workers' Compensation claims were denied because they were off-duty concertgoers and out of state when they sustained their injuries. AB 1749 changes the language in Labor Code 3600.2 to allow an employer to cover such cases in the future, and specifically includes those injured in the Las Vegas mass shooting. Section 3600.2 of the Labor Code is amended to read: "(a) Whenever any peace officer, as defined in Section 50920 of the Government Code, is injured, dies, or is disabled from performing his or her duties as a peace officer by reason of engaging in the apprehension or attempted apprehension of law violators or suspected law violators, or protection or preservation of life or property, or the preservation of the peace, anywhere in this state, including the local jurisdiction in which he or she is employed, but is not at the time acting under the immediate direction of his or her employer, the peace officer or his or her dependents, as the case may be, shall be accorded by the peace officer's employer all of the same benefits, including the benefits of this division, that the peace officer or his or her dependents would have received had that peace officer been acting under the immediate direction of his or her employer. Any injury, disability, or death incurred under the circumstances described in this section shall be deemed to have arisen out of and been sustained in the course of employment for purposes of workers' compensation and all other benefits.

(b) Nothing in this section shall be deemed to:

(b)(4) Preclude an employer, at its discretion or in accordance with written policies adopted by resolution of the employer's governing body, from accepting liability for compensation under this division for an injury sustained by a peace officer, as defined in Section 50920 of the Government Code, by reason of engaging in the apprehension or attempted apprehension of law violators or suspected law violators, or protection or preservation of life or property, or the preservation of the peace, outside the state of California, but who was not at the time acting under the immediate direction of his or her employer, including any claims for injuries sustained by peace officers during the October 1, 2017, mass shooting in Las Vegas, Nevada, if the employer determines that providing compensation serves the public purposes of the employer. For claims filed pursuant to this paragraph by peace officers for injuries sustained during the October 1, 2017, mass shooting in Las Vegas, Nevada, the date of injury for purposes of subdivision (a) of Section 5405 shall be deemed the operative date of the act adding this paragraph. Acceptance of liability under this subdivision shall not affect the determination of whether or not the peace officer acted within the scope of his or her employment for any other purpose."

SB 1086 – Extension of Death Benefit Statute of Limitations

The clock was ticking ever so loudly—January 1, 2019 to be exact—on the 420-week-from-date-of-diagnosis timeline for surviving family members of fallen firefighters and public safety officers to file for state benefits. Before Governor Brown signed this bill into law that timeline would have reverted back to its shorter, pre-2015 limit of 240 weeks. Now, however, that 420 weeks is maintained, which is vital given the fact that oftentimes certain work-related illnesses such as cancer don't become symptomatic until later.

"First responders such as firefighters and police officers bravely rush into dangerous situations in order to keep us safe," said Senator Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), who introduced the bill. "In some cases, years pass before they succumb to illnesses directly related to their actions. SB 1086 honors their service and sacrifice by ensuring that their families don't fall through an arbitrary crack in eligibility rules for survivor death benefits."

Several attorneys at Gordon, Edelstein, Krepack, Grant, Felton & Goldstein, LLP (GEKLAW) are members of the Legislative Committee of the California Applicants' Attorneys Association, speaking with legislators to support Workers' Compensation bills that are favorable to the state's injured workers. We will continue to keep you updated on what is going on in Sacramento.

 

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