New Law Expands Public Safety Officer Death Benefits
By Adam Dombchik, Esq.
California Governor Jerry Brown has signed Assembly Bill (AB) 1035 into law, nearly doubling the time for dependent survivors of peace officers and firefighters to file for death benefits under the state's Worker's Compensation system if they can prove the death was caused by certain diseases contracted on the job.
AB 1035 extends the filing period from 240 weeks to 420 weeks after the date of injury. The claim must be filed within one year after the date of death. The new law relates to death caused by one of the following four conditions that must be proven to be work-related: cancer, tuberculosis, blood-borne infectious diseases or MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), a bacterial infection resistant to many antibiotics.
The bill was authored by former California State Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez. Two earlier, broader bills presented by Pérez were vetoed by the governor, who cited financial reasons for his denials. However, in a signed letter to the members of the California State Assembly, Brown referenced a National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health study, which he writes, provides "better data on the fiscal impacts of this bill. Importantly, a review of this data anticipates that fewer than 20 cases a year throughout the state would be affected if the provisions only apply to diseases diagnosed during active service."
Active service as defined by Labor Code Section 5412 is "the date upon which the employee first suffered disability therefrom and either knew, or in the exercise of reasonable diligence should have known, that such disability was caused by his present or prior employment."
The extra filing time afforded by AB 1035 ends at the beginning of 2019. Meanwhile, the Division of Workers' Compensation will be collecting more data on the repercussions of the law.
Although this new law affects only a small percentage of the state's public safety officers, it will affect positively the family members of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice to keep us all safe.
We will continue you keep you updated on the impact of this new law as well as any other legislation pertaining to public safety officers.