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Tuesday, 04 August 2020 17:19

Some Workers Sickened by COVID-19 Face an Extra Burden: Proving Where They Got It

Written by John Hill, FairWarning
Daniel Avila Loma, second from right, contracted a fatal case of COVID-19 and his family believes it was while working at a meatpacking plant in Greeley, CO. Daniel Avila Loma, second from right, contracted a fatal case of COVID-19 and his family believes it was while working at a meatpacking plant in Greeley, CO. Photo courtesy of Olivier Avila

Index

Since the pandemic started, 15 states have made it easier, either through laws or regulations, for workers who contracted COVID-19 to get their claims accepted, according to one tally. This often takes the form of creating a presumption for certain categories of workers. Fewer than half of the remaining states are considering legislation or other changes. The rest have done nothing. 

 

The lack of a presumption may not doom a case. In states that have not created new rules for COVID-19, workers may still argue that the coronavirus is a work-related illness like black lung disease or a repetitive stress disorder. They have to show that their risk was higher than the general public because of exposure at work. 

 

In some states that have not created special treatment for workers who get COVID-19, insurers are nonetheless accepting claims.

 

The ‘first jerk employer’

 

In Ohio, for instance, some employers didn’t appeal when the state-run workers’ comp insurer approved claims, Nager said, “whether it was that they didn’t want to be the first jerk employer on the block or liked their employees or what.” 

 

New York insurers are rejecting most claims, said Michael Gruber, the attorney for LeRoy, the Brooklyn nurse.

 

“We’ve had some very, very acute cases, which are very tragic, that are not being accepted,” he said. 

 

Uncertainty over the long-term effects of COVID-19 may be driving the rejections, Gruber said. 

 

“Is a person who has a positive test and has COVID-19 going to need medical treatment for the remainder of their life through medications or through occasional checkups, yearly checkups? I don’t know,” he said. “But if they do … then the workers’ compensation insurance company is on the hook.”

 

Workers’ comp insurers may have to raise rates because of uncertainties such as these, said Steven Weisbart, chief economist of the Insurance Information Institute, an organization with more than 60 insurance company members providing data and studies.

 

The institute is getting reports of people having long-term health issues affecting multiple organs, from the lungs to the brain.

 

“The long-term issues are absolutely unclear,” he said. “That’s a potentially big-dollar area.”

 

Babcock, the Colorado attorney, said he hopes some insurers are rejecting claims simply because they have not had the time---they have 20 days in Colorado to make a decision---to investigate the validity. The rejection can buy them more time to interview the worker and others to find out if there are any obvious reasons to continue to fight the claim---a spouse got it first, for instance, or it was not prevalent at work. 


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