California Professional Firefighters

Brown Signs Death Benefits Protection for Fallen Firefighter Families

Governor Jerry Brown this week signed legislation that will provide some comfort for the widows and children of firefighters stricken by job-related cancer.

Assembly Bill 1035 eases the arbitrary 100-year-old time limit that restricts the ability of surviving widows and orphans to apply for death benefits under Workers’ Compensation.

The bill by Assemblymember John Perez extends the current 240 time limit to apply for the benefit to 420 weeks. The new law applies to firefighters who were diagnosed with job-related cancer or MRSA while active on the job. Its purpose is to relax a “death clock” that penalized survivors of stricken firefighters and police officers who fought for life beyond the arbitrary limit.

Under the old law, survivors could lose a substantial benefit if they lived even one day beyond the limit,” said CPF President Lou Paulson. “Families of our stricken firefighters should not be penalized because their loved ones lived ‘too long.’”


The measure was inspired by the case of Betty Dowling, the widow of Los Angeles City firefighter Tom Dowling. After being diagnosed with job-related cancer, Dowling fought for life, managing to keep working between chemotherapy treatments. When Tom died six years after his diagnosis, Betty was shocked to find that the survivor benefit had “timed out.”

The legislation only affects a few people, but for those who are affected, the blow is devastating,” said Paulson. “We appreciate the governor’s signature on this important measure.”

The governor’s action ended a three-year struggle. The legislation was vigorously opposed by the League of California Cities, which cited largely made-up cost estimates that exaggerated the potential fiscal impact. After two previous versions were vetoed, CPF worked with Brown and the author to find common ground. AB 1035 includes a so-called “sunset” provision that requires that it be re-authorized in four years to better assess the bill’s potential cost.

AB 1035 won overwhelming bipartisan support, as had two previous versions of the measure.

We are eternally grateful to Assemblyman Perez for his steadfast, unyielding support for our fallen firefighter families,” said Paulson. “He took a lot of heat and didn't waver. For that, all firefighter families owe him a tremendous debt.”

Bookmark and Share