CA Court Rules Against Payouts for Workplace COVID

In a significant ruling, the California Supreme Court has declared that employers are not obligated to provide workers’ compensation to family members who contracted COVID-19 from an employee. This verdict emerged from a case involving a Bay Area woodworking employee who caught COVID-19 and passed it on to his wife, resulting in severe symptoms that required respiratory support.

The Decision

The court ruled that while providing compensation to non-employees would be morally justified, the potential flood of litigation could strain businesses, overwhelm courts, and cause commercial insurance rates to skyrocket. "Recognizing a duty of care to non-employees in this context would impose an intolerable burden on employers and society in contravention of public policy," noted Associate Justice Carol Corrigan in the ruling.

This marks the second major setback for California employees seeking compensation for COVID-19 infections passed to family members. Last year, a longtime employee of See’s Candies lost a workers’ comp claim after she contracted the virus and passed it to her husband, who died.

Understanding Workers Compensation

Workers' compensation is fundamentally a trade-off: employees receive a guarantee of payment in the event of a job-related injury, regardless of fault, and employers limit the amount and extent of that compensation. The question was whether an employer's duty to protect employees from injury extends to their families. The court ruled that it does not.

Potential Challenges

However, the court did leave the door open for more lawsuits, ruling that workers' spouses who contract COVID-19 can still file negligence claims against employers.

The case underscores the tension between COVID regulations and essential businesses during the first year of the pandemic. The woodworking company, Victory Woodworks, allegedly ignored San Francisco County health ordinances requiring employers to quarantine potentially infected employees.

The implications of this ruling extend far beyond workplace compensation. "There is simply no limit to how wide the net will be cast: the wife who claims her husband caught COVID-19 from the supermarket checker, the husband who claims his wife caught it while visiting an elder care home," Victory Woodworks argued in a federal court brief.

The verdict is likely to have lasting effects on how workers' compensation and employer liability are viewed in the context of a global pandemic. As the state continues navigating these uncharted waters, the need for clear guidelines and policies for businesses and employees remains paramount.

Filing a Claim in CA

Workers' compensation claims are designed to provide financial support for employees who have suffered an injury or illness during their employment. The first step in filing a claim is to report the injury to your supervisor, manager, or boss, as this initiates the official record of the incident.

If the injury is severe, seeking immediate medical attention or calling 911 is critical. After reporting, you should fill out a workers' compensation claim form provided by your employer. Your employer's insurance company will evaluate this claim and either accept or deny it.

However, the process is not always straightforward. Common mistakes to avoid when filing a workers' compensation claim include failing to report your injury promptly, only reporting your injury verbally without securing a written copy of the accident report, delaying medical care, changing your story, and not hiring an experienced workers' comp lawyer. Such oversights can result in a denial of benefits.

Hiring a seasoned Glendale workers' compensation attorney, such as those at the Law Offices of Wax & Wax, can significantly strengthen your claim. They prioritize their clients' needs, maintain open communication, and handle every case personally, upholding the highest ethical standards.

If your workers' compensation claim is denied, these attorneys can help you fight the decision, guiding you through the complex claims process and helping you avoid potential pitfalls. Remember, it is crucial to take time to recover after an injury, seek appropriate medical care, and ensure your rights are protected throughout the workers' compensation claim process.

Contact our experienced attorneys to learn how we can help you.