CORONAVIRUS AND WORKERS’ COMPENSATION: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

Per the Centers of Disease Control, the Coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, is the cause of a disease known as “Coronavirus Disease 2019” or abbreviated as ‘COVID-19.” The Disease is something that is spread by “Person to Person” contact. There are many Occupations in which workers may come in contact with individuals who have the disease. These workers, therefore, are at risk of being infected.

This article will discuss how the Coronavirus Disease can be work-related and its implications within workers’ compensation in the State of California.

What Is the Coronavirus?

Per the Centers of Disease Control, “Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that are common in people and many different species of animals, including camels, cattle, cats, and bats. Rarely, animal coronaviruses can infect people and then spread between people such as with MERS-CoV, SARS-CoV, and now with this new virus (named SARS-CoV-2).

The SARS-CoV-2 virus is a betacoronavirus, like MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV.  All three of these viruses have their origins in bats.” The origin of the disease being from China. The CDC also noted that the disease spread via “person to person” contact. “Person to Person” contact then spread the disease outside of China.
The CDC refers to the spread of the disease to international destinations as “Community Spread.” The term “Community Spread” implies that there are some people who do not know how or where they became exposed.

How Can the Coronavirus Disease Be Work-Related?

Currently, in the United States, per the CDC, COVID-19 cases include (1) imported cases in travelers, (2) cases among close contacts of a known case, and (3) Community-acquired cases where the source of the infection is unknown. Cases (1) and (2) would be the situations for which there could be work-related contact that can be proven. If an infection source is unknown, it would be extremely difficult to prove that it could be work-related.

Per the CDC “[p]eople in places where ongoing community spread of the virus that causes COVID-19 has been reported are at elevated risk of exposure, with an increase in risk depending on the location. Healthcare workers caring for patients with COVID-19 are at elevated risk of exposure. Close contacts of persons with COVID-19 also are at elevated risk of exposure. Travelers returning from affected international locations where community spread is occurring also are at elevated risk of exposure, with an increase in risk depending on the location.”

To have an industrial case of Coronavirus Disease, an individual who comes down with the disease must have been infected by an individual while they were performing their work-duties or other work activities that would be considered as arising out of and in the course and scope of their employment.

In sum, based upon the current data, industrial causation may be found with business travelers who came in contact with the disease on their trip, people in the travel industrial who came in contact with infected customers or co-workers, and healthcare workers who treated infected patients are individuals who are currently with the disease. All three of these groups would be at the highest risk of contracting the disease.

As time goes on and the disease spreads to a larger population, there are workers in various industries who are susceptible to contracting the disease. The following are industries where it is anticipated that there would be exposure.

Transportation Industry: Currently, cases in California would likely come from person to person contact from individuals in the transportation industry. Airline Workers, Bus Operators, Taxi-Cab Drivers, Uber Drivers and Lyft Drivers are individuals who may come in contact with infected travelers. Also, individuals who work on cruise lines may also come in contact with infected travelers.
Hospitality industry: Individuals in the Hospitality Industry, such as Hotel Workers, Bell Hops, and Maids may come in contact with travelers. Further, those in the Entertainment industry such as those who work at amusement parks such as Disneyland, Knotts Berry Farm or Universal Studios may come in contact with travelers.
Medical institutions: Individuals who work at various medical facilities such as hospitals and emergency rooms may also come in contact with infected travelers.

Are There Other Workplace Settings at Which the Coronavirus Disease May be Work-Related?

Per the CDC, “Widespread transmission of COVID-19 would translate into large numbers of people needing medical care at the same time. Schools, childcare centers, and workplaces may experience more absenteeism. Mass gatherings may be sparsely attended or postponed.

Public health and healthcare systems may become overloaded, with elevated rates of hospitalizations and deaths. Other critical infrastructure, such as law enforcement, emergency medical services, and sectors of the transportation industry may also be affected. Healthcare providers and hospitals may be overwhelmed.”

Implied within this CDC statement is that other workplaces for which the Coronavirus Disease may be a cause of the injury would involve Schools, Daycare Centers, General Workplaces, Law Enforcement, and EMS services.

What is the Illness Severity?

Per the CDC, “[t]he complete clinical picture with regard to COVID-19 is not fully known. Reported illnesses have ranged from very mild (including some with no reported symptoms) to severe, including illness resulting in death. While information so far suggests that most COVID-19 illness is mild, a report external icon out of China suggests serious illness occurs in 16% of cases. Older people and people of all ages with severe underlying health conditions — like heart disease, lung disease and diabetes, for example — seem to be at higher risk of developing serious COVID-19 illness.”

What Are the Signs of Infection?

Per the World Health Organization (WHO), the “[c]ommon signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, the infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure, and even death.”

How Does One Know They Have Coronavirus Disease?

The CDC has a test kit “for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2)” It is “is shipping the test kits to laboratories CDC has designated as qualified, including U.S. state and local public health laboratories, Department of Defense (DOD) laboratories and select international laboratories.”

How Does One Prevent Infection?

Per WHO, the “[s]tandard recommendations to prevent infection spread include regular hand washing, covering mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing, thoroughly cooking meat and eggs. Avoid close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as coughing and sneezing.”

How Does One Have an Industrial Coronavirus Disease?

An industrial coronavirus disease infection would be one that occurs arising out of and in the course and scope of employment. Another means of an industrial coronavirus disease infection may be one obtained in which an injured worker contracted the disease while seeking medical attention for an existing industrial injury. For example, while treating in the hospital for a work-related broken arm, they become exposed to an infected patient at the hospital. As a result of that exposure, they contract the disease.

In order to prove an industrial case, one would have to succumb to the coronavirus disease. This would most likely require a diagnosis of the disease. Most likely, this would include positive testing for the disease. As noted, there is a test to prove whether one in fact as the disease. Therefore, this would be an important first step in proving an industrial injury. A positive test would be a valuable piece of evidence.

Second, since the disease is transmitted by human to human contact, there should be a history of the injured worker having some form of contact with someone infected with the coronavirus disease.

Third, there should be an expert medical opinion that within reasonable medical probability, more likely than not, that the transmission of the disease arose from industrial exposure. For example, if a worker was exposed to an infected co-worker but also was exposed by having three family members who were also exposed, the Doctor will have to make an in-depth analysis as to whether they believe the infection came from the work exposure.

What Type of Workers’ Compensation Benefits Can One Receive?

If industrial exposure is found, the full extent of workers’ compensation benefits would be available. This would include total temporary disability payments, medical treatment paid for by the insurance, permanent partial disability and death benefits.

The types of benefits provided is dependent on the nature and extent of the disease with respect to the particular individual infected.

What if I Need Advice?

If you would like a free consultation regarding workers’ compensation, please contact the Law Offices of Edward J. Singer, a Professional Law Corporation. We have been helping people in Central and Southern California deal with their workers’ compensation cases for 27 years. Contact us today for more information.

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