Common Injuries for First Responders

First Responder Injuries and Workers’ Compensation

Police officers, firefighters, EMTs and other emergency responders put themselves at risk of workplace injury or illness every day because of the dangerous nature of their jobs.

A first responder who is injured on the job may have costly medical expenses and be unable to return to work. In the event of a fatal occupational injury, family members left behind may face financial and emotional challenges.

North Carolina law provides certain protections when emergency responders or other public safety officials are killed or suffer injuries on the job. First responders who are injured on the job and the survivors of those who lose their lives in the line of duty have a right to benefits through workers’ compensation insurance. If you or your loved one is dealing with an occupational injury that has caused you to lose time at work and your employer is disputing your right to benefits, a workers’ compensation attorney can help you understand your legal options and work to obtain all the benefits you are promised under the law.

Our attorneys at Hardison & Cochran can review your case and help you determine the appropriate steps to take. Our legal team will answer your questions and discuss whether filing a workers’ compensation appeal or third-party liability lawsuit is in order. Call us today at (800) 434-8399 or complete our online contact form to learn more. We have offices in Raleigh and six other central and eastern North Carolina cities, and will respond to you within 24 hours.

Common Emergency Responder Injuries Suffered on the Job

Police officers, firefighters, emergency medical services (EMS) personnel and other first responders regularly risk harm to themselves to protect the public. Their jobs involve physical exertion and stress. They face irregular shifts, which can cause physical and mental strain and fatigue. Emergency response work may also involve exposure to potential health hazards such breathing smoke and harmful chemicals.

Below are some of the types of work-related injuries that we have seen among emergency responders.

Police Officers

Police officers and sheriff’s deputies are on the frontline and suffer most of the fatal occupational injuries among law-enforcement workers, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Law-enforcement workers also include bailiffs, correctional officers and jailers, detectives and criminal investigators, and associated supervisors.

Leading causes of fatal injury among police officers include:

  • Homicide (murder)
  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • Pedestrian vehicular incidents, such as passing cars striking a police officer who is standing on the roadside
  • Accidental shootings.

Common nonfatal accidents among police officers include:

  • Violence
  • Falls, slips, and trips
  • Overexertion
  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • Impact with objects or equipment
  • Exposure to harmful substances
  • Fires and explosions.

Police and other law enforcement officers may sustain:

  • Sprains and strains to muscles, tendons, ligaments, joints, etc.
  • Soreness, pain
  • Bruises, contusions
  • Fractures (broken bones)
  • Cuts, lacerations, punctures
  • Tendonitis
  • Chemical burns
  • Multiple traumatic injuries.


Firefighters extinguish fires and respond to emergency situations where life, property, or the environment is at risk. Their duties include fire prevention, hazardous material response, search and rescue, and disaster assistance. In many communities, firefighters are also responsible for emergency medical services.

Fatal injuries among firefighters are primarily due to:

  • Fires, particularly those involving a collapsing building or structural elements during a fire
  • Smoke inhalation
  • Motor vehicle, pedestrian and aircraft accidents
  • Violence by people or animal attacks
  • Exposure to harmful substances
  • Falls.

Common nonfatal accidents among firefighters include:

  • Overexertion
  • Impact with objects or equipment
  • Falls, slips, and trips
  • Exposure to harmful substances or environments
  • Fires and explosions
  • Motor vehicle, pedestrian and aircraft accidents
  • Violence by people
  • Extreme weather.

Firefighters may be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits if they miss work due to:

North Carolina is among the states that do NOT recognize the doctrine known as the Fireman’s Rule. That doctrine bars firefighters or police officers from holding liable a property owner whose negligence caused the first responder to sustain unintentional injuries when responding to a problem at a property.

Emergency Medical Services

Emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and paramedics provide medical care for the sick or injured. EMTs and paramedics respond to emergency calls, provide rescue and medical services at accident scenes, and transport patients to medical facilities. Many firefighters are trained in emergency medical services and hold EMT certification.

EMTs and paramedics have high-stress jobs and have one of the highest rates of injuries and illnesses of all occupations. They are required to do considerable kneeling, bending, and lifting while caring for patients. They may be exposed to contagious diseases and viruses, such as hepatitis B and HIV.

Fatal injuries among EMS personnel are primarily due to:

  • Fires, particularly incidents associated with a collapsing building, structure, or structural elements during the fire
  • Motor vehicle, pedestrian and aircraft accidents
  • Violence by people or animal attacks
  • Exposure to harmful substances
  • Falls.

EMTs and paramedics may suffer non-fatal injuries from:

  • Overexertion
  • Exposure to harmful substances or environments
  • Violence by people or animal attacks
  • Impact with objects or equipment
  • Falls, slips and trips
  • Fires and explosions
  • Motor vehicle, pedestrian and aircraft accidents.

These lead to injury and loss of work due to:

  • Illness
  • Sprains and strains to muscles, tendons, ligaments, joints
  • Broken bones
  • Spinal cord injuries and nerve damage
  • Bruises, contusions
  • Cuts, lacerations
  • Back injury / pain
  • Soreness, pain (other than back).

Options Available for Emergency Responders Injured on the Job

Emergency responders know they are at risk of on-the-job injuries, but it is difficult to be prepared for the consequences when a devastating workplace accident occurs. While nothing can make up for the pain of an injury or for the loss of a loved one, North Carolina law does ensure that police, fire and emergency services personnel who have been injured while on duty have their medical needs met.

Any time a first responder is hurt while performing his or her job in North Carolina, he or she may have a right to claim workers’ compensation benefits. It is possible to make a workers’ compensation claim that is based on being exposed to a dangerous chemical at work that leads to illness or based on developing a repetitive stress injury over years of duty.

Negligence is not a factor in making a workers’ compensation claim. An employee hurt on the job only needs to show that the injuries are work-related to receive benefits.

Workers’ comp benefits should include 100 percent reimbursement for all medical bills and other costs for treating work-related injuries. This includes everything from emergency care through hospitalization, outpatient treatment, and physical, occupational or vocational rehabilitation. Workers’ compensation also pays for psychological counseling related to recovery from an eligible injury or for mental health issues that developed because of job duties.

State lawmakers in North Carolina are considering legislation that could affect the workers’ compensation coverage of paid and volunteer firefighters. The legislation also would add nine types of cancer as occupational diseases. If a firefighter with at least five years of firefighting experience is diagnosed with one of the listed cancers, the presumption is the disease is job-related and would qualify for Workers’ Compensation coverage.

If the legislation passes the N.C. General Assembly, the following cancers would be occupational diseases for firefighters:

  • esophageal cancer
  • intestinal cancer
  • rectal cancer
  • testicular cancer
  • brain cancer
  • Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
  • multiple myeloma
  • mesothelioma
  • oral cavity cancer

The legislation also clarifies that leading poisoning would be considered an occupational disease if a firefighter is exposed to lead at least 30 days within the previous 12-month period.

Another bill that lawmakers are considering would provide worker’s compensation coverage for diagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder suffered by law enforcement officers, firefighters or emergency medical personnel if the PTSD arises out of injuries characteristic of the job.

Disability benefits for total and partial disabilities also provide income to replace a portion of your wages if you cannot work or if you are put on restricted duty and earn less because of your injury. These benefits can continue on a temporary or permanent basis depending on the status of your recovery.

Workers’ compensation also provides surviving dependents with death benefit payments in the event that an emergency responder was killed on the job.

Third-Party Liability Lawsuits Over Emergency Responder Injuries

Workers’ compensation law does not allow beneficiaries to sue their employer for negligence that may have led to their on-the-job injury. However, an injured worker may have the option to sue a third party who has responsibility for an injury.

For example, if a police officer on patrol in a cruiser is injured in a car accident caused by another motorist, the police officer may be entitled to file a personal injury claim against the negligent driver.

You may be able to recover compensation through a personal injury lawsuit citing a third-party, but such a claim requires showing that the defendant was negligent and that this negligence led to your injuries.

Our Workplace Injury Attorneys Can Help

The attorneys of Hardison & Cochran have extensive experience representing workers who get hurt on the job including emergency responders. We can provide a variety of services to you if you were injured while performing police or security work.

Our attorneys value the essential work that first responders perform. We can help you to understand the options available to you for seeking compensation if you have been injured on the job. We can help you prepare a workers’ compensation claim or a third-party liability lawsuit – or both.

We can also gather evidence to prove your eligibility for workers’ compensation or that a third party’s negligence caused your injuries and losses. It is not unusual for employers, including local governments, to try to deny or limit workers’ compensation payments to injured workers. Our dedicated workers’ compensation lawyers will stand up for your interests in settlement negotiations and appeals hearings or at trial, if necessary, in our efforts to secure maximum compensation for you.

To learn more about how Hardison & Cochran can assist you, give us a call or contact us online today. We have offices in Raleigh, Durham, Greensboro, Fayetteville, Dunn, Southern Pines, and Wilmington. We charge no fees unless we obtain monetary compensation for you.