Lawsuit filed against Forestry & Fire director misinforming families about death benefits

Ken Pimlott, director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Photo: Rich Pedroncelli AP



Lawsuit filed against Forestry & Fire director misinforming families about death benefits


Do you know if state or federal laws provide death benefits in the case of your death or the death of a loved one? Not all government workers involved in dangerous work fully understand their benefits – unfortunately, the government cannot always be counted on to provide benefits to families according to regulations. When this happens, lawsuits against government organizations are frequent results, as seen with the Sacramento lawsuit involving California firefighters.

The Cal Fire Case

The Cal Fire case refers to a lawsuit that has been filed in a Sacramento court against the Director of the Cal Fire organization, Ken Pimlott, and another chief leader, Janet Barentson. The lawsuit, which has been filed by Paul Goyette as a representative of firefighter families, contends that both Pimlott and Barentson knew about an important state law regarding death benefits, but refused to act on it. Assistant Chief Mike Ramirez has provided key information that led to this lawsuit.

In the suit, Ramirez claims that he was specifically ordered to not disclose the existence of the law to any family members of firefighters who had died. The law was created so that family members of contracted firefighters killed in the line of duty would have appropriate compensation.

According to Ramirez, his career was threatened if he did not ignore this particular law. Instead, the suit claims that Ramirez was ordered to pursue federal options for paying benefits, as if the California law did not exist. Eventually, Mike Ramirez was terminated based on separate allegations of workplace mismanagement: He is fighting this termination in addition to the lawsuit.

According to the Cal Fire spokeswomen Jane Upton, there is no truth to these allegations. With both sides clearly at odds, this case appears on its way to an important court hearing. Approximately 12 pilots killed in the line of duty since 2002 may be affected by the law and its alleged cover-up. The lawsuit doesn’t specify a sought amount, but damages could be within the tens of millions.

Why Does This Happen?

It can be somewhat surprising when this sort of lawsuit occurs, because many citizens expect at least the government to follow its own laws. Unfortunately, this is not always the case: Many problems with bureaucracy end up settled in court due to a variety of problems. The Cal Fire case is getting a lot of attention because it alleges a particularly flagrant violation of regulations that may have cost grieving families vital death benefits.

The Cal Fire case also appears to be a particularly unpleasant example. Not only was the law possibly ignored on purpose and backed up with threats, but Cal Fire has a complex history with Ramirez involving confrontations over workplace misconduct regarding subordinates drinking on the job, displaying inappropriate photos on state phones, and possibly even using state property to consort with prostitutes. It may take this lawsuit some time to unravel.

Not all death benefit cases are so complicated. Sometimes benefits are forgotten or left unpaid because of clerical error, ignorance of the law in question, or compatibility issues between state, federal, and city regulations. In many cases the families are not notified of potential benefits at all, which can make it difficult to know when something has gone wrong.

Death Benefits and Consultation

Because of the complex nature of government death benefit provisions and the large sums of money involved, it is best to consult with an attorney if you have any questions concerning benefits you believe you may be owed. This is particularly true if you believe that anyone is withholding information about your benefits or providing false information regarding your claim.

At GOM Law, we provide free consultations so you can safely discuss these matters and find out more about your options. Contact us today to learn more!