What is the Lyme Disease Presumption?

California Workers’ Compensation Law provides for certain Safety and Law Enforcement, a presumption with respect to Lyme Disease.  Labor Code Section 3212.12 provides the substance of the Lyme Disease Presumption and notates who it applies to and how it is to be applied.  Due to the unique nature of the disease, this article will discuss Lyme Disease and its transmission in detail.

The Labor Code states as follows:

“3212.12. (a) This section applies to peace officers, as defined in subdivision (b) of Section 830.1 of the Penal Code, subdivisions (e), (f), and (g) of Section 830.2 of the Penal Code, and corps members, as defined by Section 14302 of the Public Resources Code, and other employees at the California Conservation Corps classified as any of the following:

Title Class
Backcounty Trails Camp Supervisor, California
Conservation Corps …..
1030
Conservationist I, California Conservation Corps ….. 1029
Conservationist II, California Conservation Corps ….. 1003
Conservationist II, Nursery California Conservation Corps ….. 7370

(b) The term injury, as used in this division, includes Lyme disease that develops or manifests itself during a period in which any person described in subdivision (a) is in the service of the department.

(c) The compensation that is awarded for Lyme disease shall include full hospital, surgical, medical treatment, disability indemnity, and death benefits, as provided by this division.

(d) Lyme disease so developing or manifesting itself in these cases shall be presumed to arise out of and in the course of the employment. This presumption is disputable and may be controverted by evidence that the Lyme disease is not reasonably linked to the work performance. Unless so controverted, the appeals board shall find in accordance with the presumption. This presumption shall be extended to a person described in subdivision (a) following termination of service for a period of three calendar months for each full year of the requisite service, but not to exceed 60 months in any circumstance, commencing with the last date actually worked in the specified capacity.”

What is Lyme Disease?

According to UC IMP, which is cited for and quoted throughout these questions and answers, “ Lyme disease is a potentially serious disease, and can be localized or affect multiple body systems. The disease is caused almost exclusively by the spirochete Borrelia burgdorferi, a corkscrew-shaped bacterium. In California, there is an additional bacterium Borrelia bissettii, has been found to occasionally infect people.

Lyme disease spirochetes are transmitted to humans by the feeding activities of certain ticks. Of the 48 tick species established in California, 6 species attach to humans with some regularity, but only nymphs (an immature tick life-stage) and adult females of the western blacklegged tick, Ixodes pacificus, transmit Borrelia burgdorferi to people.

Ixodes pacificus has been reported in 56 out of 58 counties in the state.  It attaches to humans more frequently than any other tick species.

Are certain locations more prevalent for Lyme Disease contraction?

“Certain California counties pose a much higher risk of contracting Lyme Disease than others. For example, the highest average incidence from 2005 to 2014 occurred in the northwestern counties of Trinity (4.5), Humboldt (3.9), and Mendocino (3.9), as well as in the northern Sierra-Nevada counties of Sierra (3.2) and Nevada (2.7). These county estimates vary slightly due to year-to-year variation in reporting, but the patterns of risk remain similar. “”

Is there a particular part of the body that is  common for contact with ticks?

In one study, 85% of adult ticks that contacted the clothing of subjects walking in grassland were detected between the ankle and knee. Therefore,  most exposure to injury is with respect to the lower extremities.

What harm can come from Lyme Disease?

Many patients experience fatigue, headache, fever, chills, and other flulike symptoms during the initial stage of illness.

Without treatment, other signs or symptoms  of Lyme Disease may occur days to months later. These can involve the skin (multiple secondary rashes), musculoskeletal system (migratory pain in joints, tendons, muscles, or bones), neurologic system (severe headache, facial palsy, memory loss), and enlarged lymph nodes. Lyme Disease can result in heart, eye and liver damage. In rare circumstances, it can cause death.

When does Lyme Disease become apparent?

“Most people who contract Lyme disease or other tick-borne diseases become ill within 1 to 2 weeks after having been bitten. Commonly used antibiotics usually cure Lyme disease. If treatment is delayed, the disease may progress to arthritic, neurologic, or cardiac problems weeks to months later.”

Am I covered by the Presumption?

Certain Peace Officers and Conservation Corps Members are covered. You should check with your Department to confirm the application.  Firefighters do not appear to be covered.  Even if the presumption does not apply, a Lyme Disease exposure should be pursued.   This is especially the case in for Firefighters who work in forests, grasslands, brush or chaparral.

Can the Presumption be rebutted?

Yes. The statute allows for the Presumption to be rebutted by the Employer proving that there was no reasonable link to the “work performance.”

How can the Presumption be rebutted?

The term “Work Performance” is of import with respect to the analysis. “Work Performance” is multi-factorial in that it involves task, location and time.   Lyme Disease contraction requires tick exposure. Ticks are located at particular geographical locations.  Also, Ticks are more prevalent during certain times of the year.

Generally, ticks are located in the following areas: forests, grassland abutting either brush or forest,  open grassland or chaparral, grassland, and woodland-grass, or brush.

Therefore, an Employer trying to rebut the presumption will try to identify as to whether the Injured Worker’s Work Performance brought them to the areas noted above.  For example, if an injured worker had strictly a desk job in an office and never went into the field, it would appear that the presumption could be rebutted.  Also, if there matter gets more highly litigated, the issues of the time of year may become an area of contention.   As noted above, ticks are more prevalent during certain times of the year.

Is there any Case Law on the Lyme Disease Presumption?

As of the writing of this Blog Article, the Lexis-Nexis service which reports on California Workers’ Compensation Law did not include any report cases addressing the Lyme Disease Presumption.

With more than 23 years of expertise in defending workers’ rights, the Law Offices of Edward J. Singer, A Professional Law Corporation, is here to assist. If you have any questions concerning your rights, please do not hesitate to contact our offices.  Please contact us today concerning any workers’ compensation questions or issues.