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Contracted Coronavirus from Work? Connecticut’s Workers’ Compensation System May Help

America has joined the global pandemic. By now, all Americans are familiar with the rapidly spreading Coronavirus / COVID-19 / SARS-CoV-2. Cities across the country have responded. We first saw assembly restrictions and advice to adopt social distancing; then forced closures of schools, restaurants, bars, malls, and casinos; and now we’re seeing the shift to “shelter in place” orders, limiting travel other than to obtain food and medicine.

The daily updates seem relentless, so we seek to do one thing here: explain to the many displaced workers of Connecticut how they might find financial relief in the form of wage replacement benefits under our workers’ compensation system. Workers who are able to support coronavirus-based workers’ compensation claims will receive approximately 2/3 of their gross weekly wage for periods that they are unable to work.

Connecticut’s workers’ compensation laws provide for benefits for those who are injured at work. Coronavirus / COVID-19 / SARS-CoV-2 is an infectious disease and is covered under Connecticut workers’ compensation law. That said, these claims will be met with strong resistance by insurance companies both because of the preliminary burden of proof that injured workers have, but also because insurers are confronting uncertain economic times.

Related Case Law

In Walker v. City of Hartford, 4605 CRB-1-03-1 (December 30, 2003), the workers’ compensation appeal board (the “CRB”) ruled in favor of a preschool administrator who contracted a serious case of pink eye after coming into contact with an infected child at work. The employer argued that this individual could not prove that the pink eye came from her work at the preschool. The appeal board disagreed.

They wrote: “Exposure to a contagious disease has been found to be an accidental injury under § 31-275(16)(A). Doe v. City of Stamford, 241 Conn. 692 (1997).” The ultimate question is “[w]hether or not there was a causal relationship between the claimant’s exposure to the [infection] . . . and the [infection] that she developed approximately one week later . . . .” Because the daycare worker submitted a letter from her treating ophthalmologist expressing an opinion that the infection arose out of the exposure at the daycare, the injury was ultimately approved. Therefore, the commissioner made a finding the workers’ injury was “compensable” under § 31-275(16)(A).

In its decision, the CRB noted that: (1) the worker was able to identify a particular event where she was exposed and in close contact with the infection; (2) the infectious disease is “highly contagious”; (3) contraction is “very likely” under the circumstances; and (4) the medical diagnoses, treatment, and time away from work were related to the worker’s infection.

Applying for Workers’ Comp Due to COVID-19 Losses

What does this all mean for you? For now, employees who can rely on unemployment assistance, paid sick leave, or forms of short- or long-term disability, should do so, as claims based on infectious disease will take time to resolve and be hotly contested by employers and insurers. Further, with current court closures, it’s unknown when and how these claims will be heard by our commissioners. The more detail you can provide about your infection, the more likely you are to prevail.

Healthcare workers and medical professionals will have an easier time proving claims, in addition to those workers who were exposed to confirmed cases in their workplaces. Specific knowledge of when, where, and how you contracted COVID-19 may determine whether you receive benefits. This information should ideally be in writing, from a medical provider that treated you, and state that the exposure at work was a “substantial contributing factor” to your contraction of the virus.

It is foreseeable that insurers and employers will argue that workers may already have been infected or were exposed to the virus outside of the workplace. Nonetheless, employees who believe they were infected at work should consider filing a workers’ compensation claim. During the economically difficult times ahead, the Connecticut workers’ compensation system must serve as an added support for our families and workers with financial obligations to meet.