California Fire Season 2020 & Workers' Compensation Injuries

Updated: September 13, 2020



Here we are in the middle of September and this fire season has far surpassed previous records and this season looks far from over.  

With the size of the August Complex, SCU Lighting Complex, LNU Lightening Complex, North Complex, Creek, CZU Lightening fires and the great number of fires this year (as of the writing of this article, there are 18 fires that over 10 acres in size currently burning), there are going to be a lot of injuries.

The injuries will be a specific event in nature and continued wear and tear (meaning these fires could cause continued “wear and tear” injuries).  In addition, there will be many what to appear to be unrelated health problems including heart, cardiovascular, lung, and psychiatric issues.  As a firefighter, those problems are likely related to the day-to-day stress of your job and constant grouping of traumatic events experienced.

Based on COVID-19, it’s unlikely that I will see CAL FIRE personnel early in 2021 at the CAL FIRE 2881 conference.  I doubt the union will hold an in-person meeting.  Therefore, I will not be able to “get the message out” on the rights of injured workers.  Hopefully, I am wrong, because it is good opportunity for membership to visit my booth in between meetings and discuss their claims and potential rights following fire season.  It is on the event calendar for Sheraton Grand on J Street in Sacramento, however, there has not been a solid date set in January of 2021.

Most CAL FIRE personnel attempt to deal with State Compensation Insurance Fund on their own without contacting an attorney.  Although I don’t recommend that, here are some areas you need to pay attention to if you choose to go “at it” on your own:

  1. A letter discussing your potential eligibility for permanent disability.
  2. A letter objection to your physician’s recommendations or opinions.
  3. A letter that mentions a “QME” or “Qualified Medical Evaluator.”
  4. You have a heart, cardiovascular, or lung problem that has not been accepted as work related.
  5. If you have a QME appointment set up, don’t go until you speak to us.
  6. A letter delaying or denying your claim.
  7. A letter closing your claim.
  8. A letter from CAL PERS denying retirement or approving disability retirement.
  9. You will likely lose your job since the injury prevents you from working.

The point is that many CAL FIRE clients tell me that they did not contact me sooner, because there is a stigma around workers’ compensation claims, contacting attorneys, or even admitting that you are hurt.

I can tell you that “being a team player” and not taking care of your rights is only going to hurt you in the long run and in many cases, you could lose rights available to you.  I just had a client who I recently assisted with settlement of his claim who said that if he had not contacted me, he would not have the retirement benefits and medical benefits for life that he has from CAL PERS.  I asked him why he felt that way.  He said because “I have a half dozen friends who are going through the same thing I went through and all of them “cashed-out” their retirement without knowing the consequences.  If I had not worked with you, I wouldn’t have known.”

I will leave you with this.  I am a workers’ compensation attorney who does understand retirement benefits since I handle a lot of safety personnel.  However, I am not a disability retirement attorney.  Yet, because this client reached out to me, that choice, in his mind, was life changing, because I spotted the possibility of potential rights that was related to workers’ compensation.

That story and the pitfalls I listed should be a lesson on why you shouldn’t “go at it alone.”