After a car or truck accident, police officers, firefighters, EMTs/paramedics, tow truck operators and other first responders arrive on the scene to investigate and aid those involved.
Unfortunately, while responding to such accidents, these heroes often become victims themselves. In fact, traffic-related incidents are the leading cause of death for on-duty law enforcement officers, and the second leading cause of death for fire rescue personnel, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration.
Injured first responders or the families of first responders who were killed while responding to a car or truck crash may be eligible for compensation, regardless of whether the accident occurred on the way to an accident or at the scene.
If you’re a first responder injured in a secondary car or truck accident or a close family member of a first responder who lost his or her life in an on-duty accident, here’s what you should know.
Options for Injured First Responders
Because it happened on the job, some assume that first responder accident injuries are a workers’ compensation issue. However, while workers’ compensation can certainly play a role, it isn’t the only option.
Injured first responders who work for state/county agencies or private business may be able to collect benefits, such as compensation for medical expenses or lost wages, through the Indiana Workers’ Compensation Act.
This law doesn’t apply to members of municipal police or fire departments, or members of a police or firefighters’ pension fund—who are potentially covered under Indiana Code §36-8-4-5. Providing benefits similar to those offered by workers’ compensation, Indiana Code §36-8-4-5 makes it possible for eligible injured first responders to receive the following, which is paid for from the municipality’s general fund:
- Medical and surgical care
- Medicines and laboratory, curative, and palliative agents and means
- X-ray, diagnostic, and therapeutic services, including during the recovery period
- Hospital and special nursing care if a physician or surgeon considers it essential to recovery
Obtaining medical or lost wage benefits from workers’ compensation or under Indiana Code §36-8-4-5 doesn’t prevent injured first responders from filing a personal injury lawsuit to pursue compensation from a liable third party. Such circumstances might include a negligent motorist who injures (or kills) an on-duty police officer or firefighter who’s in the process of responding to a separate car or truck accident.
In addition to economic losses such as lost wages and past and future medical expenses, injured first responders who are plaintiffs in personal injury cases can seek compensation for non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering, mental and emotional anguish, and loss of enjoyment of life.
First Responder Wrongful Death
When a first responder is killed in a car or truck accident in the line of duty, his or her close family members or select others who financially relied on the deceased may be eligible to collect wrongful death benefits through workers’ compensation or a wrongful death lawsuit.
Potential damages include:
- Funeral service costs
- Burial or cremation fees
- The pain and suffering the family member experienced prior to death
- Loss of income
- Loss of care and guidance
- Loss of consortium (for spouses)
Move Over, Slow Down
In an effort to protect first responders, Indiana is one of many states that passed Move Over, Slow Down laws. Indiana’s version of the law requires motorists to change lanes to give more room to police cars, ambulances, fire trucks, incident-response vehicles, highway maintenance vehicles, utility service vehicles, and tow trucks.
Motorists who cannot safely change lanes must reduce their speed to 10 mph below the posted speed limit. Those who don’t comply with Indiana’s Move Over, Slow Down law risk penalties such as fines and suspension of their drivers’ licenses for up to two years.
A Personal Injury Lawyer Who Understands the Challenges First Responders Face
As a decorated former police captain, Randy Sevenish of Sevenish Law knows what it’s like to be a first responder who puts his life on the line day in and day out. At Sevenish Law, injured first responders will receive the respect and the aggressive, yet honorable, representation they deserve.