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Natural Disasters and First Responder Workers’ Comp

Natural Disasters and First Responder Workers’ Comp

During natural disasters first responders often rush toward the places of greatest hazard. Wildfires, severe weather, floods, and even earthquakes are among the disasters emergency personnel may face here in Nevada. And as we saw during the 2017 firestorms in California, from time to time Nevadans also go to other states to lend assistance to local crews. First responders may have questions about how Nevada’s workers’ compensation system protects them during these events.

Disaster declarations and workers’ compensation

Nevada’s industrial insurance law doesn’t specifically address natural disasters. But Nevada law authorizes the governor to declare a state of emergency in the event of a disaster “of unprecedented size and destructiveness.” Part of the rationale for this law is to ensure that the state can access federal resources to respond to crises. The governor used this authority last year to respond to severe weather in the state. The law also grants the governor broad authority to make and modify rules and regulations to, among other things, ensure the availability of emergency response personnel in times of crisis. NRS 414.060.

Similar laws have been used in other states to facilitate provision of workers’ compensation benefits to first responders who are involved in disaster relief efforts. For example, in response to Hurricane Harvey the governor of Texas ordered workers’ compensation insurers to continue providing benefits to workers in affected areas, while also extending deadlines and expanding coverage in important ways. Under the right conditions, the Nevada governor could take similar steps.

The Texas example highlights an important consideration during major disasters. In some cases a worker’s ordinary doctor or pharmacy may not be accessible. Workers with existing, covered conditions may need exceptions to their benefits rules, such coverage for out-of-network care or deadline extensions to account for lost power or disrupted communications. Absent a specific declaration from the governor or another authorized government official, workers in this situation may need help getting the care they need.

Workers’ comp has you covered

Even without an emergency declaration from the governor, Nevada’s workers’ compensation system should cover first responders who are injured during natural disasters while they are doing their jobs. Nevada’s industrial insurance system covers injuries that arise out of and in the course of a worker’s employment. NRS 616C.150. Police officers, firefighters, and EMS professionals who respond to natural disasters at the behest of their employers are covered. State law also explicitly provides coverage for volunteer firefighters, both nonprofessionals and professionals alike. Law enforcement personnel are typically authorized to take steps to protect the public even when they are off-duty, but it’s worth checking an employer’s policies to ensure that off-duty activities are covered.

Nevada’s workers’ compensation law specifically provides coverage for injuries suffered out of state.  NRS 616C.190. First responders who go out of state to assist local agencies can do so knowing any injury they suffer will be covered.

At Greenman Goldberg Raby Martinez we are proud of our long history of helping clients in the Las Vegas first-responder community resolve their workers’ compensation disputes. During emergencies insurers can become difficult to work with, due to high volumes or financial pressures. Having an experienced attorney staying on top of a dispute can make all the difference. For a free attorney consultation, call us at 702-388-4476 or send us a request through our site.