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Search and rescue volunteers covered by workers' comp

We often hear about how workers' compensation covers employees in a workplace accident, but what happens when the person doing the work isn't paid? Volunteer emergency workers can find themselves in precarious situations and subject to as much harm as they person they are attempting to rescue. Is the volunteer worker covered if he or she is injured?

The issue came about in the state recently when a search and rescue volunteer in Routt County broke his arm and his leg in an avalanche while attempting to save two snowboarders stuck in a canyon. Even though the rescuer is not a paid employee, he is still covered by the county because he was performing services on behalf of the sheriff's office, which will cover all medical expenses and two-thirds of lost wages.

Outdoor activities like skiing, hiking and mountain climbing are popular tourist activities; therefore, rescue workers play a vital role in the state's economy. The same non-profit organization that covered the volunteer in Routt County also covers government volunteers in Clear Creek, Elbert, Gilpin, Park and Weld counties in the Denver metropolitan area.

However, because volunteers are not employees, they may not have access to the same resources when filing a workers' compensation claim. Here are three steps volunteer workers should take after an injury or accident.

1. Record as much information about the event as possible

This information should include the "five W's:" who, what, when, where and why? Even if this information cannot be provided immediately due to a life-threatening injury, it should be recorded as soon as possible after the event.

An individual's immediate recollection of an accident often provides the most thorough and accurate story. Providing names of witnesses to the accident can also allow the claimant to get a second perspective and add credibility to their case.

2. Keep records of bills and lost wages

When emergency care is needed, medical bills stack up quickly. Maintain a record of all bills accrued during the accident. Additionally, injuries suffered while volunteering may keep workers away from their regular employment, which could require a record of wages lost.

3. Speak with a workers' compensation attorney

The workers' compensation claims process is complicated, and each person's case is different. An attorney who understands the nuances of the law can help you understand how it applies to your case. When emergency rescuers are in need of assistance themselves, a workers' compensation attorney is there to help.

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