When COVID-10 hit the country, nobody really knew how unprepared our country was to deal with the crisis. Coronavirus has spread rampantly throughout the country and now New York has more confirmed cases than any single country. First responders have largely used up the personal protective equipment supplies and are resorting to reusing masks and other PPE. Nevertheless, even in light of the shortage, first responders are battling this disease and saving lives.
From a legal standpoint, the big question from a workers compensation perspective, was whether first responders could prove they were exposed to the highly contagious coronavirus at work as opposed to at home, in a ride-share, at a friend’s home, etc. Certainly, Missouri workers compensation law requires employees to be injured on the job or exposed to occupational disease in the course and scope of employment in order to qualify for work comp benefits. We anticipated insurance companies would utilize their typical defenses to protect their money from paying claims. Indeed, injured workers have the burden of proof. That means they lose if they cannot prove their case. Therefore, an injured worker must prove he or she contracted COVID-19 at work. Insurance company lawyers would question ever single movement the injured person made outside of work to cast a cloud of doubt on where the virus was contracted. The insurance company would then argue the employee did not meet his or her burden. Case lost.
Thankfully, Missouri just passed 8 CSR 50-5.005, entitled “Presumption of Occupational Disease for First Responders.” The code of state regulation now modifies how first responders’ workers compensation claims will be handed. This emergency rule creates a presumption that any first responder who contracts COVID-19 or is quarantined due to COVID-19 was exposed at work. The rule was filed April 8. 2020 and will become effective April 22, 2020 and expires on February 1, 2021. The rule covers law enforcement officers, firefighters and EMTs only. It does not cover nurses, doctors, or other healthcare workers.
As such, we are advising our COVID-19 clients not to make a workers compensation claim until April 22, 2020. For those that are out of work a few weeks and have no resulting disability, these people should not need the services of a lawyer. Our office will assist those first responders for free. For people who recover, the work comp insurer is responsible for all necessary medical care, time off work, and resultant disability (if any). From a disability perspective, from what we can tell, COVID-19 will not pose any serious life-altering disability.
For those that lose a family member first responder due to coronavirus the process will be much more complex and harder to navigate. Our work comp lawyers are providing free screenings on all death cases and will counsel the family as to what legal options are available.
There are some notable exceptions to the emergency rule that could take away the presumption of work exposure in certain cases.
If you have questions about COVID-19 workers compensation claims, you can submit your question to [email protected] or call our lawyers at 314-400-0000.
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Our Personal Injury Attorneys have proudly collected TENS OF MILLIONS of dollars in compensation for clients.
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