As you can imagine with the surge in Covid cases due to the Delta variant, I am seeing a big increase in the number of questions I am getting about Covid compensability situations.
My colleague Wes Heim in our Tampa office is preparing an article summarizing all of the JCC level cases that touched on Covid, but there really has not been any substantial change in compensability overall. As a refresher, a claimant still has to prove the two essential elements of Occupational disease (440.151 below):
- Actual exposure at work- meaning the claimant can identify someone who they came into contact with because of work had Covid at the time of their contact (CDC defines contact as within 6 feet of someone for a total of 15 minutes over a 24 hour period).
- The claimant’s occupation put them at greater risk than other occupations. It cannot be simply they have to deal with the public or be in public, it has to be something about that specific occupation was riskier. Here are a couple of key excerpts from the statutory language:
“Nature of the employment” means that in the occupation in which the employee was so engaged there is attached a particular hazard of such disease that distinguishes it from the usual run of occupations, or the incidence of such disease is substantially higher in the occupation in which the employee was so engaged than in the usual run of occupations.
“occupational disease” shall be construed to mean only a disease which is due to causes and conditions which are characteristic of and peculiar to a particular trade, occupation, process, or employment, and to exclude all ordinary diseases of life to which the general public is exposed, unless the incidence of the disease is substantially higher in the particular trade, occupation, process, or employment than for the general public.
Many of the cases I have been asked about satisfy one, but perhaps not the other element. It must be BOTH number 1 and number 2 above. And it must be shown by “clear and convincing evidence”, which basically means the claimant must really really convince the judge as opposed to the standard burden of proof in WC cases of just more likely than not.
Of course every case is fact specific, please do not hesitate to reach out to me with questions.
440.151 Occupational diseases.—
(1)(a) Where the employer and employee are subject to the provisions of the Workers’ Compensation Law, the disablement or death of an employee resulting from an occupational disease as hereinafter defined shall be treated as the happening of an injury by accident, notwithstanding any other provisions of this chapter, and the employee or, in case of death, the employee’s dependents shall be entitled to compensation as provided by this chapter, except as hereinafter otherwise provided; and the practice and procedure prescribed by this chapter shall apply to all proceedings under this section, except as hereinafter otherwise provided. Provided, however, that in no case shall an employer be liable for compensation under the provisions of this section unless such disease has resulted from the nature of the employment in which the employee was engaged under such employer, was actually contracted while so engaged, and the nature of the employment was the major contributing cause of the disease. Major contributing cause must be shown by medical evidence only, as demonstrated by physical examination findings and diagnostic testing. “Nature of the employment” means that in the occupation in which the employee was so engaged there is attached a particular hazard of such disease that distinguishes it from the usual run of occupations, or the incidence of such disease is substantially higher in the occupation in which the employee was so engaged than in the usual run of occupations. In claims for death under s. 440.16, death must occur within 350 weeks after last exposure. Both causation and sufficient exposure to a specific harmful substance shown to be present in the workplace to support causation shall be proven by clear and convincing evidence.
(b) No compensation shall be payable for an occupational disease if the employee, at the time of entering into the employment of the employer by whom the compensation would otherwise be payable, falsely represents herself or himself in writing as not having previously been disabled, laid off or compensated in damages or otherwise, because of such disease.
(c) Where an occupational disease is aggravated by any other disease or infirmity, not itself compensable, or where disability or death from any other cause, not itself compensable, is aggravated, prolonged, accelerated or in anywise contributed to by an occupational disease, the compensation shall be payable only if the occupational disease is the major contributing cause of the injury. Any compensation shall be reduced and limited to such proportion only of the compensation that would be payable if the occupational disease were the sole cause of the disability or death as such occupational disease, as a causative factor, bears to all the causes of such disability or death, such reduction in compensation to be effected by reducing the number of weekly or monthly payments or the amounts of such payments, as under the circumstances of the particular case may be for the best interest of the claimant or claimants. Major contributing cause must be demonstrated by medical evidence based on physical examination findings and diagnostic testing.
(d) No compensation for death from an occupational disease shall be payable to any person whose relationship to the deceased, which under the provisions of this Workers’ Compensation Law would give right to compensation, arose subsequent to the beginning of the first compensable disability, save only to afterborn children of a marriage existing at the beginning of such disability.
(e) No compensation shall be payable for disability or death resulting from tuberculosis arising out of and in the course of employment by the Department of Health at a state tuberculosis hospital, or aggravated by such employment, when the employee had suffered from said disease at any time prior to the commencement of such employment.
(2) Whenever used in this section the term “occupational disease” shall be construed to mean only a disease which is due to causes and conditions which are characteristic of and peculiar to a particular trade, occupation, process, or employment, and to exclude all ordinary diseases of life to which the general public is exposed, unless the incidence of the disease is substantially higher in the particular trade, occupation, process, or employment than for the general public. “Occupational disease” means only a disease for which there are epidemiological studies showing that exposure to the specific substance involved, at the levels to which the employee was exposed, may cause the precise disease sustained by the employee.
(3) Except as otherwise provided in this section, “disablement” means disability as described in s. 440.02(13).
(4) This section shall not apply to cases of occupational disease in which the last injurious exposure to the hazards of such disease occurred before this section shall have taken effect.
(5) Where compensation is payable for an occupational disease, the employer in whose employment the employee was last injuriously exposed to the hazards of such disease, and the insurance carrier, if any, on the risk when such employee was last so exposed under such employer, shall alone be liable therefor, without right to contribution from any prior employer or insurance carrier; and the notice of injury and claim for compensation, as hereinafter required, shall be given and made to such employer; provided, however, that in case of disability from any dust disease the only employer and insurance carrier liable shall be the last employer in whose employment the employee was last injuriously exposed to the hazards of the disease for a period of at least 60 days.
(6) The time for notice of injury or death provided in s. 440.185(1) shall be extended in cases of occupational diseases to a period of 90 days.
Morgan Indek | Managing Partner