And this is a blog dedicated to Mississippi Workers' Compensation
It has been over a year since I fired up the blogging machine, though the dates are not completely coincidental. Covid-19 has impacted everyone, whether it be through the loss of loved ones, financial impacts, mental stress, or even simply the loss of normalcy. I know I took for granted my normal routine, and I missed the mundane. Some of your lives have been impacted by Covid-19 in ways I cannot imagine, and my heart goes out to those of you who lost a loved one, in particular.
It is Monday morning as I am typing this, and I finally feel a small breath of fresh air. Yesterday was Easter. Our family was able to attend church yesterday morning for the first time in over a year. We did so without masks. I was able to shake hands and hug necks. Afterwards, our kids played with their friends in the neighborhood all afternoon. I am aware Mississippi has lessened restrictions more than most states, but yesterday felt like a normal day again for the first time in ages.
As an avid sports fan, I watch the games on tv and see people in the stands. Ole Miss will entertain Arkansas this weekend in baseball with over 10,000 people in attendance. While I know we may never get fully “back to normal”, I am so thankful to see the world transition back to whatever our “new normal” will look like. I am energized now in a way that I have not been in quite some time.
Many of you have already dealt with Covid-19 claims. I have taken numerous calls and sat through countless seminars discussing the topic. However, while vaccinations are increasing and cases decreasing, we are not completely out of the woods. Claims are still being filed and every state has a different view on how these need to be handled.
From my perspective, Covid-19 is not all that dissimilar to the flu or any other occupational illness from a workers’ compensation standpoint. I am attaching a memorandum our Firm prepared on the topic which goes into great detail regarding our advice on how to handle these claims moving forward under the “USEFUL LINKS” section. [insert memo from userfile]
For purposes of this blog, I want to boil it down to the most simple form. If you have a claimant diagnosed with Covid-19 while at work, my recommendation is to dispute the cause as being related to work activities while you perform a thorough good-faith investigation. Covid-19 would not fall under “injury” under the statute, so it would have to be categorized under “occupational disease” to qualify for workers’ compensation benefits. In essence, they are treated similarly, meaning there needs to be a causal connection between the illness and work.
As contagious as Covid-19 has been and remains, I find it almost impossible for a medical provider to give an opinion that, within a reasonable degree of medical probability, contact with someone at work was the reason a claimant was diagnosed with Covid-19. If that same person went to a grocery store, church, gas station, etc., then they could have potentially caught Covid-19 from any variety of places. Finding a medical opinion that the virus came from one specific encounter will be difficult to obtain.
Having said that, we also cannot completely exclude the possibility of Covid-19 being related to work either. For instance, direct exposure to someone at work who is positive for Covid-19 certainly can become the direct correlation to a Claimant’s infection. We would need to investigate where all the claimant had been, who they had been around and if there were any other potential exposures to Covid-19. For most Americans, we are daily in contact with others, whether we are wearing a mask or not. If the odd facts of your case show a medical diagnosis, without any other human interaction other than from the work exposure, then it is certainly possible it is work-related, especially for workers in the medical field.
After causation, we have to consider benefits. For most people who become infected with Covid-19, there is a period of quarantine, but limited medical treatment and/or expenses. The average person with Covid-19 finishes the quarantine, would be paid minimal benefits or salary in lieu of compensation during that period of quarantine, they would receive medical benefits and they are back to work without any permanent damage. Covid-19 certainly becomes more scary if the medical takes a turn for the worst, as I personally know people who have had extended medical stays and high expenses associated with treatment for the illness.
We are still learning more about the virus as it moves through society, and there is little to no case law on the subject yet, as there has not been sufficient time for rulings and appeals. If you have a Covid-19 claim and need assistance in any way as to how you should handle your investigation, or questions in general about the defense of a Covid-19 claim, I would urge you to call or email me at your convenience.
12/19/2021 02:11:17 pm
Excellent article. I agree that its so hard to trace an infection back to one specific person or place. I did have a situation recently where one person tested positive at a work retreat, but if anyone else test positive later it could have been from others as well.
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Attorney with Markow Walker in Ridgeland, MS