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Workers’ Compensation for Coronavirus

We all unfortunately now find ourselves in a crisis the likes of which few have ever seen and hopefully will never see again. For those of you that remain actively employed in an essential business and have the misfortunate to suffer a work-related injury and for those of you who suffered a work-related injury prior to your furlough or layoff, please understand that Connecticut’s Workers’ Compensation system remains up and running. The Commission offices throughout the state are staffed and operating and hearings are being conducted by telephonic conference. All filings are being accepted and processed including requests for approvals of full and final settlements. Insurance company adjusters, while perhaps not working out of their offices, are effectively managing pending files and new files working remotely from home as are employer attorneys from their homes or offices. In addition, the Commission has relaxed certain requirements and rules for claimant’s such as the requirement that claimant’s undertake weekly job searches and submit written reports in order to collect certain types of benefits such as temporary partial disability benefits or wage differential benefits.

Medically, in the non-emergency situation, claimants will find things to be quite different. Routine appointments for orthopedic injuries for example may very likely be delayed or undertaken via Skype, Zoom or similar videoconference device. Planned orthopedic surgeries for conditions that might be painful, but are not life threatening will most likely be deferred and delayed so as to preserve the availability of hospital beds and critical staff for COVID-19 patients. Routine outpatient procedures will also likely be delayed if for no other reason than to comply with the social distancing requirements.

In addition, for those of you with pending claim, and are due to have the permanent partial impairment of your injured body part assessed by your treating physician you may also have to wait. Whether those evaluations will take place will be up to your treating physician. This can be quite significant especially for those who find themselves furloughed or laid off because a permanent partial impairment rating leads to an award of weekly specific disability benefits. My suggestion is that when dealing with your treating physician’s office, remember the old adage that an ounce of sugar is worth a pound of cure.

Keep in mind that insurance companies are still obligated to reimburse employees for mileage incurred for attending physical therapy sessions and doctor’s appointments as well as hearings. For those of you who do not have lawyers, it is unlikely that the adjusters you have been dealing with have told you about these additional benefits.

In addition, workers’ compensation insurance companies are notorious for seeking to cut off weekly benefits when a claimant refuses to participate in medical care. People with presently pending claims, especially those with children at home, may very understandably be reluctant to attend such treatment modalities such as physical therapy and a refusal to do so seems quite justified under the present circumstances we are in. If such a situation arises for you and you are unrepresented, I would suggest contacting your claim handler and explaining to him or her your position in this regard or if you are represented ask your attorney to do so.

There is also the obvious question of whether contracting the COVID-19 virus in the course of one’s employment can be a compensable claim under our Workers’ Compensation Act. The most significant hurdle to bringing such a claim would be to establish by a preponderance of the evidence that a claimant actually became infected as a result of his or her work-related activities. Certainly, a healthcare worker such as an emergency room nurse, technician or physician or any healthcare professional working in a hospital would be able to make a more compelling case than, for example, an attorney who occasionally sees clients in his office or elsewhere and is able to socially distance his or herself from those clients. Similarly, an ambulance technician and perhaps even a police officer would be in a better position to establish causation although their exposure to potentially infected individuals is seemingly quite less than a healthcare professional working full-time in a hospital.

If you do contract COVID-19 as a result of your workplace activities and are very fortunate your remedies under the Workers’ Compensation Act will be quite limited. According to the information we are all by now aware of through the news media and other outlets, most cases are resolved after approximately 14 days of homecare. Obviously, such an infected person would be incapable of working for that two or three week period at home and the only remedy would be your lost time from work after the first three days of your incapacity because workers’ compensation indemnity benefits do not start after that three day period has elapsed. Workers’ compensation can be far more significant for someone who has to be hospitalized as a result of his or her illness and be forced to be absent from work for an extended period of time. In that event, assuming the individual could prove his illness was contracted as a result of his or her employment activities, the workers’ compensation insurance company would be responsible for all reasonable and necessary medical expenses as well as compensation for that period of recovery that that individual was totally incapable of working.

In addition, such as a seriously ill individual might suffer from some permanent impairment of his or her lung function as a result of the illness and would, in that event, be entitled to some degree of specific disability benefits for that impaired lung function.

In the very worst-case scenario should the employee die from COVID-19 contracted in the workplace, his or her surviving spouse would have a claim for widow’s benefits under the Workers’ Compensation Act. In such a horrendous event, the workers’ compensation company would be responsible to pay all reasonable and necessary pre-death medical expenses, the funeral bill and a weekly check representing roughly 75% of the decedent’s average weekly wage on the last date that he or she worked for the rest of the surviving spouse’s natural life so long that the surviving spouse did not remarry.

If you have been hurt at work or know someone who has call Brown Paindiris & Scott, LLP at 860-659-0700. The attorneys practicing in the area of workers’ compensation at this firm have a combined 90 years of experience in handling workers’ compensation cases.