Why can’t firefighting contractors sue the state of California?

Countless California workers and their families rely on the state’s workers’ compensation program to provide money to pay for medical care and death benefits in the event of an on-the-job accident. However, one category of worker — who risks his or her life for the community — cannot get workers’ compensation or sue the state of California for benefits relating to an on-the-job event. This person is the firefighting contractor.

When someone works as a private contractor to help the state of California fight wildfires, and is injured or killed on the job, no legal recourse is available. The reason is because of a law from 1963. The law dictates that neither private contractors working for the state nor public agencies will be liable in the event of a firefighting injury. As a result of the law, family members of a man who died while operating a bulldozer in the course fighting fires in 2016 had to drop a wrongful death suit they filed against the state.

Some say that this law doesn’t make sense. Opponents to the law say that it’s time for legal reform so that contractors who are hurt, and family members of contractors who are killed, while fighting fires can benefit from a safety net that offers financial support to pay for medical care and to assist in other ways. One law professor put it this way, “Why would you … put your life at risk in this way, if you and your family have no way of holding anyone accountable if you’re injured.”

If you or your loved one suffered an injury or died while firefighting — and you’re having trouble getting benefits — a California workers’ compensation lawyer can explain your legal rights and options.

Source: KQED News, “A 1960s Law Blocks Firefighting Contractors From Suing State,” Ted Goldberg, Nov. 08, 201

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