A Firefighter Oath is Irrelevant to Determining Carolina Workers Compensation Benefits, Says the Court in McCain v. Town of North Providence


April 16, 2012
By Lee Law Offices, P.A. on April 16, 2012 2:31 PM |

Workers' compensation law is a separate niche of personal injury law. Having an experienced North Carolina workers' compensation attorney is critical in understanding what you are entitled to if you have suffered a work related injury in North Carolina.
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Workers' compensation (WC) was created to provide benefits to employees who are injured as a result of their work duties. These benefits are codified in a statute called the Workers' Compensation Act. This Act stipulates that police officers and firefighters who are injured on the job should not receive benefits consistent with the Act but should receive greater benefits.

This statutory guidance enabled many states to adopt "injured on duty statutes" to address the benefits for police officers and firefighters who are injured on the job. However, the statutory definition of firefighter and police officer created confusion in this Rhode Island case.

Public servants in the form of firefighters and police officers have essential job functions that can sometimes be perilous. Because these public servants sacrifice for the benefit of society, they may be awarded additional benefits if they are injured on the job.

McCain v. Town of North Providence is a recent case coming out of Rhode Island. This case involves a fire department employee who was injured while performing his job duties. The question was whether McCain (plaintiff) was entitled to injured-on-duty (IOD) benefits or workers' compensation benefits.

Plaintiff was hired by the mayor's chief of staff as a technician for the fire department. The mayor's chief of staff sent the fire chief a memorandum indicating that the plaintiff was hired as a 3rd Class Firefighter for the town, the classification that all new members of the fire department received. Consistent with protocol, the fire chief issued an order formalizing McCain's employment and issued him an identification card which listed him as a member of the fire department with the function of a technician. Technicians were considered linemen and functioned as part of the communications unit. These technicians were responsible for the managing the communications equipment and acting in any way instructed by the fire chief. Plaintiff was not counted as an on-duty firefighter for operational use, as he was not part of the operational unit.

Plaintiff was instructed as part of his job to return ladders to the bucket trucks. While doing this, Plaintiff lost his balance and hit his head on a bucket apparatus causing him to suffer injuries. Upon suffering this injury, the fire department classified him as being injured while in the line of duty and thus entitled to IOD benefits.

After several years of making these payments to plaintiff, the town ceased the benefit payments claiming that the plaintiff was not entitled to these extra benefits under the statute because he was not a "sworn firefighter." Plaintiff sued the town and asked the court to enter a declaratory judgment stating that he was indeed a firefighter.

The court in this case looked to the terms and definitions in the statute. Where the language of the statute is clear and unambiguous, the court must take the language and apply it strictly to the facts of the case. Because the IOD statute replaces workers' compensation for firefighters and police officers, the court looks to the statutory definition of firefighter. This IOD statute clearly states that anyone who is employed as a member of the fire department is to be considered a firefighter within the application of the statute.

Therefore, where the plaintiff was employed as a member of the fire department he is to be considered a firefighter. Because he is considered a firefighter, and he was injured on the job, plaintiff is entitled to IOD benefits.

The court held for the plaintiff and ordered the IOD benefits to be paid.
This case illustrates how confusing these cases can be and how important the details are in your workers' compensation case.

If you, a coworker or someone who is in your family has been injured or killed in a work-related accident in North Carolina, contact the Carolina workers' compensation attorneys at Lee Law Offices, P.A. for legal advice regarding your case and your rights. We are a dedicated law firm that is here to help to protect the rights of injured workers and their families. Call today to schedule a free and confidential appointment. Call 1-800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:

McCain v. Town of North Providence, No. 2010-161-Appeal (R.I. S.Ct. Apr. 5, 2012).