This blog is authored by Attorney Douglas R. Horn, an Independence, Missouri, lawyer who concentrates on handling Missouri injury claims.
April 13, 2020
Missouri Governor Mike Parson came out last week and assured first responders who have been infected with COVID-19 that they would be entitled to receive state workers’ compensation benefits without having to prove they got sick due to workplace exposure.
This announcement by the Missouri Governor raises the question about whether other workers, who are not first responders, will also be entitled to claim worker compensation benefits.
Missouri Worker Compensation Benefits
When a worker is hurt on the job, that worker is entitled to worker compensation benefits provided under the law. Normally workers get injured through some sort of accident or repetitive use injury. In the circumstance where a worker contracts COVID-19 in the workplace, that worker would be presumably able to claim worker compensation benefits because COVID-19 is considered to be an occupational disease.
Under Missouri law, there are three primary benefits you can receive if you are hurt or contract an occupational disease on the job.
First, injured workers can receive weekly benefits to offset the loss of wages for the time out of work. Second, injured workers are entitled to payment of their medical expenses incurred for treatment related to the injury. Finally, injured workers can also make a claim for a lump sum disability benefit if they can prove the injury or disease, resulting in a permanent partial impairment.
In the event a worker dies as a result of a work-related injury or occupational disease, their spouse or dependents are entitled to a weekly death benefit. The spouse can receive a weekly benefit check until they re-marry or die. If the deceased worker is not married at the time of death, his or her dependent children would be entitled to weekly benefits until they are adults.
COVID-19: Proving Occupational Disease
As mentioned above, it is my opinion that COVID-19 will be considered an “occupational disease” for the purposes of triggering Missouri Workers Compensation benefits. The important legal issue (except for first responders) will be proving that the worker contracted COVID-19 as a result of workplace exposure.
Clearly, the best evidence to show that the COVID-19 exposure arose out of the employment, would be to show that co-workers of the infected person or others whom the infected person came in contact with during their employment responsibilities, tested positive for COVID-19.
However, because COVID-19 testing was done on so few people and the fact that many people did not have demonstrable symptoms, it might be difficult to identify the person who likely transmitted the COVID-19 virus to the infected person in the workplace. Of course, we should expect that the attorneys representing the employer will make the argument that the COVID-19 virus could have been easily contracted outside of the workplace. This is exactly why Governor Parson issued an order relieving first responders of having to prove they got COVID-19 from workplace exposure.
This proof of exposure becomes even more difficult from a legal standpoint when you consider that the COVID-19 virus incubation period can be two weeks or longer.
Workers Who Have Recovered from COVID-19
Thankfully, because a large number of COVID-19 cases involve people who have recovered, I expect the vast amount of Missouri Workers’ Compensation COVID-19 cases that will be filed with the Division of Workers’ Compensation will involve claims for reimbursement of weekly benefits (for lost work) called Temporary Total Disability (TTD) and payment of medical expenses in the event the infected person was not covered by health insurance.
Claims for Missouri Workers’ Compensation benefits, either TTD benefits or for medical expense payments, should be made through the infected person’s employer. These claims usually don’t involve the need for legal representation, although legal consultation may be helpful to decide on the best course of action.
COVID-19 Death Benefits
As mentioned earlier, if a worker has passed away due to COVID-19 (and is not a first responder), it will be necessary to prove that the deceased person contracted COVID-19 during the time they were in the scope of his or her employment. Upon this proof, the surviving spouse or dependents would be entitled to worker compensation death benefits. In the case of a COVID-19 death, legal consultation with an attorney well-versed in Missouri Worker Compensation law is highly recommended.