Starting in April 2020, Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson issued a series of Executive Orders suspending portions of the workers’ compensation law and easing the burden of proof for first responders, front line healthcare workers, National Guard, and Airmen.
On June 15, 2020 Governor Hutchinson issued executive order classifying COVID-19 as an “occupational disease” and that exposure to COVID-19 is to be classified as a “unusual and unprecedent incident” for the purposes of Arkansas’ workers’ compensation law. The executive order also establishes COVID-19 as an exception to the prohibition on workers’ compensation for “ordinary disease of life to which the general public is exposed”.
Arkansas’ executive orders are part of a rapidly expanding national trend. Legislative bodies across the country are currently considering laws creating broad evidentiary presumptions of work-relatedness for COVID-19 workers’ compensation claims.
As of April 30, 2020,
does not yet have a law creating a presumption of work-relatedness for the diagnosis of COVID-19. However, national trends suggest that such legislation may only be a matter of time.
Laws creating broad evidentiary presumptions for COVID-19 present both practical and legal problems for employers and workers’ compensation insurance carriers and may also ultimately frustrate their intended beneficiaries -- the front-line workers suffering from COVID-19. For workers, the rush to legislate has resulted in bills that are overbroad, covering employees with no special risk of exposure e.g. police dispatchers and hospital administrators, and under broad, often leaving out less glamorous jobs with high exposure such as bus drivers and store clerks. For employers and insurers, these laws radically shift the burden of proof on existing policies and may create enormous liabilities. Challenges to these laws will need to be resolved by courts - these bills may not withstand constitutional challenges based on retroactivity, the takings clause, the contracts clause, and due process.
Chartwell is working across the nation to represent the interests of insurers and employers. Chartwell attorneys are on the front-line litigating all issues associated with COVID-19 and are available to advise regarding both individual claims and litigation challenging legislation.
Chartwell Law represents the interests of insurers and employers, as such, we continue to continue to monitor the legal landscape. If you have any questions about issues associated with COVID-19, our attorneys are available to help. Please contact your Chartwell Law attorney or email us at Covid19WC@chartwelllaw.com.