Morelle Bill Protecting Volunteer Emergency Responders Clears Legislature, Awaits Governor’s Signature

June 27, 2012

Legislation protecting volunteer emergency first responders in the event of on-the-job injury caused by a motor vehicle accident has unanimously passed the state Legislature, bill sponsor Assemblyman Joseph D. Morelle, said today. (A. 10090B memo attached.)

Morelle’s bill closes a dangerous loophole in state insurance law that has been used to deny volunteer responders compensation after accidents involving uninsured or underinsured drivers. The bill requires that Supplementary Uninsured-Underinsured Motorists (SUM) policies held by fire, ambulance and EMS agencies must extend to their individual members at all times while on duty.

“Incredibly, current law only protects volunteer first responders when they’re actually inside an emergency vehicle covered by a SUM policy, and leaves them vulnerable once they step out simply because they aren’t personally named on the policy,” said Morelle, chairman of the Assembly’s Committee on Insurance. “As a result, these brave men and woman may face catastrophic financial and physical consequences.

“This is morally indefensible, and it is time to make sure that those who protect us have the protection they deserve as well.”

Morelle said this issue came to his attention when he learned about the case of Wayne County firefighter James Gallaher, struck by a hit-and-run driver while directing traffic near a fire scene in February 2006. The driver of the car was never found, and Gallagher has had to rely on his personal insurance and workers’ compensation to help pay for extensive and ongoing treatments and hospitalizations.

“As a firefighter, I certainly knew my job entailed many risks,” Gallaher said. “I had no idea that I wasn’t insured against many of those risks. The past six years have been extremely difficult on me and my family, and I don’t want anyone else to go through what we have. I am very grateful to Assemblyman Morelle for pushing this bill through not only on my behalf, but on behalf of all first responders who are out there serving the public every day.”

“Jim Gallaher had every right to expect that his fire department’s insurance covered him,” Morelle said. “We have an obligation to him, and all those who risk their lives for us, to prevent this from ever happening again. I thank my colleagues in the Legislature for their support, and urge Governor Cuomo to sign this measure into law as soon as possible.”