The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted every element of society and impacted public entities and their employees. One of the largest concerns is for the well being and safety of the general public and those that provide essential services.
When essential services are provided there is an ever-present risk to the first responders that may be involved in an accident or impacted by a disease. Workers compensation is designed as a resource to cover an injury or an occupational disease. This includes the direct medical costs, compensation for the lost time from the workplace, and benefits to families in the event of a work-related fatality.
One of the largest questions to arise from an outbreak of a virus, such as COVID-19, is will first responders be covered by workers compensation, if they become infected during their work? A brief summary of the defining statues is helpful to provide clarity to the question.
The Utah State Code under 43A-3-103 defines a work-related injury to include an occupational disease. The code defines “a compensable occupational disease”, to include “any disease or illness that arises out of and in the course of employment and is medically caused or aggravated by that employment”. Historically this has referred to diseases that arise or are caused during employment, such as black lung disease which occurred from work in coal mines or asbestosis from those that have had prolonged exposure to asbestos.
In recent years, the intent of the statute has been clarified regarding presumption of injury for specific types of exposure. Utah State Code 34A-2-901 states:
“An emergency medical services provider who claims to have contracted a disease, as defined… as a result of a significant exposure in the performance of his duties as an emergency medical services provider, is presumed to have contracted the disease by accident during the course of his duties as an emergency medical services provider”
The Utah State code defines the applicable diseases as “Human Immunodeficiency Virus infection, acute or chronic Hepatitis B infection, Hepatitis C infection, and any other infectious disease specifically designated by the Labor Commission, in consultation with the Department of Health, for the purposes of this part.
At this point we are not aware of any cases, where first responders have been or potentially have been infected by COVID19. If such were to arise, we would suggest that they be reported as injuries to you workers compensation carrier.
The largest writer of workers compensation coverage in Utah is WCF, which states that if a COVID19 claim were to arise that such claim will be based on an, “investigation of the facts and a review of the state of the disease at the time and place of the alleged exposure. Medical evidence is key to determining compensability in any occupational-disease claim and in the case of COVID19 that evidence must include the most up to date epidemiological information.” Most other insurance companies will take similar positions regarding possible claims related to exposure from COVID19.
The impact of COVID19 has been significant, and the response of local government has been remarkable. The first responders are on the front lines of an event which continues to evolve. We Hope they are safe during their work to help and support others during this event. Workers compensation continues to be a strong backstop to protect the interest of those providing these crucial services.