A new study from the Workers Compensation Research Institute (WCRI) addresses how the massive slowdown of economic activity early in the pandemic impacted workers’ compensation, and to what extent COVID-19 claims have arisen in the workers’ compensation system.
COVID-19 Impact on Workers’ Compensation Claims
In the midst of the Coronavirus outbreak with multiple vaccines slowly become available to the general public, it appears that the pandemic may be in the beginning of its decline despite reports of new variants of the disease circulating among the general population. Notwithstanding, several months of the pandemic affecting all individuals to a lesser or larger degree, it is clear that the virus and efforts to control the spread of the disease particularly using nonpharmacological strategies such as quarantine, isolation, and public health education have had a significant effect on economic activity nationwide.
In addition, the virus has had an effect on the volume of non-COVID-19 workers’ compensation claims filed across the vast majority of the states. More particularly, a reduction by at least 30 percent in the vast majority of states was documented when comparing claims filed in 2019 and 2020. While the reduction in claims is not unexpected, the disparity in how the pandemic has affected different industries as a result of lockdowns, economic suppression, and remote work, is still being analyzed.
Louisiana Legislation Limits Business Liability for COVID-19 Claims
Of some note, COVID-19 has resulted in the inception of new COVID-19 claims among workers employed in the services industries including assisted living facilities, hospitals, and offices of different medical providers. However, Louisiana has enacted legislation to limit business liability related to these types of COVID-19 claims. In this regard, businesses and government entities will not be liable for damages resulting from exposure to COVID-19 in the general course of business unless the defendant entity failed to substantially comply with COVID-19 guidelines, engaged in gross negligence, or commits willful and wanton misconduct that leads to the alleged injury. In Louisiana, “gross negligence” is determined in the event when the offender shows an entire absence of lack of care or careless conduct.
However, in determining compensability, all specific facts of exposure and diagnosis will likely be considered by the Courts. If a claimant can establish that the occupational disease “arises from his/her work” with “causes and conditions characteristic of and peculiar to the particular trade, occupation, process, or employment in which the employee is exposed to such disease,” then such claims could be compensable.
To qualify, the claimant must show that COVID-19 was contracted during the course of employment and that the disease and associated symptoms/injuries were the result of the nature of the work performed. Naturally, such a determination will require a “fact intensive” investigation regarding the individual’s activities and potential avenues of exposure that could or could not be related to his/her employment.
Accordingly, compensability for exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace will be a dilemma to be addressed by Louisiana Court for months to come.