January 2015 is a milestone for me as it marks my 25th anniversary as an attorney.
It is always imperative to keep up with changes in the laws, particularly those impacting injured workers as I focus on Workers’ Compensation claims. I am the daughter of a retired NYC Firefighter and the sister of two firefighters, one of whom retired on a disability pension as a result of his lung condition caused by the toxins in the air after 9/11. Besides needing to know the law as a professional, I want to know about updates, as they can affect my family.
For those public employees who were at the World Trade Center site after September 11, 2001, in rescue or recovery, or were public civilian employees injured as a result, it is imperative that you notify your retirement system that you were present. Under the State World Trade Center Disability Law, those sickened by their recovery work are eligible to receive lifelong enhanced disability payments upon retirement and your families can receive benefits if you pass away. In 2013, New York State Senator Martin Golden and State Assemblyman Peter Abbate co-sponsored a bill that extended the deadline to file the Notice of Participation until September 11, 2014. This deadline was subsequently extended again until September 11, 2015 for members of those “covered” employees.
Some employees had previously been denied coverage because their diseases were not initially covered. The law protects the following individuals who responded to the collapse of the WTC: Uniformed members of the NYPD, FDNY, DSNY, and DOC, and other civilian employees including EMS workers, 911 dispatchers and supervisors, emergency vehicle radio repair mechanics, vested members of a public pension system who stopped working before filing a claim, and workers who became disabled more than two years after the WTC disaster but before the Workers’ Compensation Law was extended.
Civilian employees who did not have a pre-employment physical can apply for a disability pension by providing medical records that show no pre-existing condition before 9/11. Death benefit legislation, enacted in 2006, provides an accidental death benefit to City employees within this same eligibility group.
The bill allows police officers, firefighters, and other civilian employees hired before July 26, 1976, who retired for non-WTC accidental disability to have their retirement reclassified as accidental. Verification of service at a WTC site during the period indicated varies according to the pension system. Independent medical boards (each pension system has its own medical board) review the applications initially and report to the Boards of Trustees. If a disability is found, the pension system’s Board of Trustees makes a final decision on the application.
Only 911 operators and supervisors who worked within the first 24 hours after the first plane hit the Towers are eligible for WTC-related benefits. In addition, 911 operators and supervisors may only apply for benefits based on the qualifying psychological conditions.
While this extension is not anticipated to open up a floodgate of additional claims, for those people who qualify, the benefits can be substantial. The size of the payments depends on the worker’s job title, when they were hired, and their retirement tier. While there can be no real compensation when your health is affected, this is a small step to assist our First Responders who deserve to have their retirement less worrisome when it comes to financial issues.
Catherine M. Stanton is a senior partner in the law firm of Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano, LLP. She focuses on the area of Workers’ Compensation, having helped thousands of injured workers navigate a highly complex system and obtain all the benefits to which they were entitled. Ms. Stanton has been honored as a New York Super Lawyer, is the past president of the New York Workers’ Compensation Bar Association, the immediate past president of the Workers’ Injury Law and Advocacy Group, and is an officer in several organizations dedicated to injured workers and their families. She can be reached at 800.692.3717.
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