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How Will COVID-19 Affect Connecticut Workers' Compensation?

Connecticut
September 12, 2019
March 19, 2020
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The Connecticut Supreme Court held that exposure to an infectious disease is a compensable injury under the Workers’ Compensation Act. Doe v. City of Stamford, 241 Conn. 692, 696 (1997). It determined that, where a “claimant concededly has sustained actual exposures to life threatening infectious diseases in incidents that arose out of and occurred in the course of his employment, the claimant has suffered compensable injuries under the act and may recover the expenses associated with reasonable medical testing and treatment.” Id.

In Doe, a police officer was exposed to HIV while apprehending a suspect and in separate circumstances was exposed to tuberculosis from another suspect. Id. at 694. Fortunately, the police officer did not contract either disease and did not require indemnity payment, but rather sought medical benefits for payments of doctors’ visits and testing. Id. It reasoned that in order to effectuate the act’s humanitarian purposes of the statute, “injury” cannot be defined so narrowly as to exclude a serious risk of contracting a life-threatening disease. Id. at 696. In Doe, the court held that in circumstances where there is actual exposure of a life-threatening disease that arose out of and occurred in the course of employment, the claimant may recover the expenses associated with reasonable medical testing and treatment. Id.

For workers in Connecticut who have been exposed to COVID-19, they may be able to file for workers’ compensation benefits. However, unlike the example in Doe v. City of Stamford, COVID-19 is highly contagious between people with a median incubation period of five days and therefore the origin of where COVID-19 was contracted may not be as readily apparent. See World Health Organization, https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/q-a-coronaviruses. Connecticut courts have held that “unless the medical testimony by itself establishes a causal relation, or unless it establishes a causal relation when it is considered along with other evidence, the commissioner cannot conclude that the disease arose out of the employment.” Murchison v. Skinner Precision Ind., Inc., 162 Conn. 142, 152 (1972). Therefore, unless the employee can establish that he or she was exposed to COVID-19 while they were at work, which may be difficult to achieve, their claim will not be compensable.

In summation, in Connecticut, if an employee is proven to be exposed to COVID-19 while at work, contracts the disease and misses time from work, then the employer and/or insurer must pay for indemnity and medical benefits. However, should the employee simply be exposed to COVID-19, but does not miss any time from work and does not contract the disease, then medical benefits must only be issued.