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Is Coronavirus a Valid Reason to File for Workers’ Compensation?

Woman wears medical mask

The novel coronavirus or COVID-19 continues to be a worry for Americans across the country. Not only are people afraid for their health, but they also are concerned about what will happen to their finances if they have to miss work due to testing positive for COVID0-19.

Many are understandably asking, “Can I get workers’ compensation if I am diagnosed with the coronavirus?” For many, the answer is likely no. However, taking a closer look at the reasoning behind that answer is important.

The Coronavirus is Spreading Widely & Invisibly

At this time, it is difficult for medical professionals and disease control specialists to positively identify the first signs of COVID-19 in a patient. The vast majority of people – around 80% - may be invisible carriers of the coronavirus because they never exhibit any strong symptoms. Instead, they have a slight cough and fever that can easily be reduced with an off-the-shelf painkiller.

Invisible carriers pose a threat to the health of more vulnerable people whenever they go out in public, though. They might not show any symptoms and think it is fine to go to work, not realizing they are potentially spreading the virus to others.

This widespread prevalence of COVID-19 that is “invisible” in many cases works against people trying to file for workers’ compensation benefits after contracting the virus. To get workers’ compensation benefits, you need to be able to show that your injury or illness occurred due to your regular work duties or while you were on-the-job. Tracing the origin of your COVID-19 exposure is effectively impossible at this time. Therefore, workers’ comp insurance providers would be quick to deny your claim by arguing you likely caught the coronavirus outside of work, such as while interacting with friends and family or while going shopping.

What About Occupational Illnesses?

Most workers’ compensation policies due include provisions for occupational illnesses. In summary, an occupational illness is any medical condition or diagnosable health problem – like a virus – that is assumed to be contracted at work and because of the applicant’s work. Doctors, nurses, surgeons, and others in the medical field are usually the only types of workers who can file for workers’ compensation based on coming down with an occupational illness, such as one they caught from a sick patient they helped as part of their job.

With this in mind, if you are in the medical field and get tested positive for COVID-19, then you likely have a real chance of getting workers’ compensation benefits. Several insurance companies have already confirmed that they will extend coverage to first responders and others who are called to assist people who have or are suspected to have the coronavirus.

Permanent Disability Benefits for Some COVID-19 Cases

There are far more cases of people recovering from the coronavirus than there are severe cases that led to a patient’s death. However, some people who recover from COVID-19 are left with permanent lung damage that may cause debilitations for the rest of their lives. How would a workers’ compensation case look for someone who recovered but not fully?

Assuming that workers’ compensation benefits were made available to the coronavirus patient in this scenario, it would likely begin with temporary disability (TD) benefits. While they are hospitalized or self-isolating, the TD benefits would help them stay financially afloat. Once they recovered from the illness and received a prognosis of permanent lung damage, though, it is possible they could receive permanent disability (PD) benefits.

If they are not expected to fully recover from their work-related injury or illness, applicants can receive PD benefits as compensation awarded for their work injury or, in this case, work illness in addition to coverage that pays for approved future medical treatments. PD benefits are meant to provide coverage for losses to the applicant’s earning capacity, which is determined on a case-by-case basis.

There is also the possibility that a death claim could be filed by the family of a worker who passed away due to complications caused by COVID-19. Death claims can help pay for burial expenses, up to a cap. Surviving family members may also receive a portion of the deceased’s regular wages each week for up to 240 weeks.

Is Your Claim Eligible? Find Out Today

Do you need help figuring out if you can seek workers’ compensation for your coronavirus diagnosis in Glendale or Santa Clarita? The Law Offices of Wax & Wax can help. Our workers’ compensation attorneys are still hearing from clients and providing free initial consultations over the phone. Call us at (818) 946-0608 to find out more, including if your claim is one you should pursue.