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Can volunteers be eligible for workers' compensation benefits?

The recent storm that ripped through the mid-Atlantic states caused widespread destruction from falling trees, windblown debris and fires. EMS workers, fire departments and volunteer services were all called into action and many residents are thankful for the services these people provide. One such volunteer firefighter in North Carolina lost his life during the course of his work at a residential fire. The question arises if, as a volunteer, this man's family would be eligible for workers' compensation death benefits.

Most states set forth what the specific classifications of employees are, what types of employees are considered "at-will" or if a person is considered an independent contractor. All these classifications have different requirements and knowing what classification a particular job falls into is not always easy. In North Carolina, however, there are situations in which a volunteer may be covered under workers' compensation benefits. Like some other states, workers' compensation benefits insurance premiums for volunteer emergency and law enforcement personnel are paid for out of a special fund administered by the state.

The young man who was killed had a family that will be very grateful that such benefits are available. They must now begin the task of picking up the pieces of their own lives. It would be very helpful for this man's family to become familiar with the process by which benefits are applied for and what information is needed to file a claim.

Often the term volunteer is confused with the idea that these people may work for free or are not actually employees. In some cases this is correct, but in many cases it is not. Knowing a particular jobs classification and if those who work at that job are eligible for workers' compensation benefits or other state or federal benefits is important information to have before an incident takes place.

Source: myfox8.com, "Storms lead to death of volunteer firefighter, elderly man in Wilkes County," June 13, 2013

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