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COVID-19 as a Work-Related Illness: Are You Eligible?

COVID-19 has pushed the American healthcare system to its limits. Fortunately, the New Jersey workers' compensation system offers benefits to some workers who likely contracted the virus as part of their employment.

First responders in gear

In July 2019, Governor Phil Murphy signed into law the "Thomas P. Canzanella First Century First Responders Protection Act." The Act is named after Deputy Chief Thomas P. Canzanella, a former firefighter in Hackensack who risked his life at Ground Zero after 9/11 and who ultimately passed away from a heart attack.

Ordinarily, workers have the burden of proving causation in a claim alleging a work-related injury or illness. This new law, however, creates a presumption that a "public safety worker" who contracts a virus like COVID-19 while exposed to it at work is eligible for workers' compensation benefits.

Importantly, the law restricts those benefits to "public safety workers," defined as "a member, employee, or officer of a paid, partially-paid, or volunteer fire or police department, force, company or district, including the State Police, a Community Emergency Response Team approved by the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management, or a correctional facility, or a basic or advanced medical technician of a first aid or rescue squad, or any other nurse, basic or advanced medical technician responding to a catastrophic incident and directly involved and in contact with the public during such an incident, either as a volunteer, member of a Community Emergency Response Team or employed or directed by a health care facility."

If a public safety worker can demonstrate exposure to a serious, communicable disease or pathogen, or to a biological toxin used in, or related to, biological warfare or epidemics during their employment, they are potentially eligible for medical treatment, temporary disability benefits, and an award of permanent disability through their employer's workers' compensation carrier. As with all work-related injuries or illnesses, it is best to contact an attorney as soon as possible so a formal claim can be filed.

If you have any questions about eligibility under this change to our worker's compensation laws, call Costello & Mains, LLC for a free consultation. All worker's compensation cases are done on a contingent basis, which means there is no fee unless we're successful. Visit us at www.costellomains.com or call at 856-727-9700.

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