Workers’ Compensation and COVID-19
- Dan T. Matrafajlo
- Mon Apr 2020
Will an employee exposed to COVID-19 (or the psychological threat of being exposed) have a claim that can be compensated under the Workers’ Compensation claim of the State of New Jersey? The answer is still unknown, but there is a possibility. Let me explain.
The COVID-19 virus is an unprecedent pandemic, but it does have some similarities to other disability causing diseases and conditions.
In the State of New Jersey, a Workers’ Compensation claim for COVID-19 could fall under two specific categories: 1) Pulmonary disability; and/or 2) Psychiatric disability.
New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Courts have recognized pulmonary disability claims with
diseases bearing similar characteristics to the COVID-19 virus. For example, the courts have found compensable injuries due to death from pneumonia, ruptured aneurysm in lungs, and re-activation of tuberculosis. (See, Dawson v. E. J. Brooks & Co., 134 N.J.L. 94, 45 A.2d 892 (1946), Johnson v. H. Gasner, Inc., 19 N.J.Misc. 46, 17 A.2d 84 (Dept. of Labor 1940), and, Reynolds v. General Motors Corporation, 38 N.J.Super. 274, 118 A.2d 724 (Co.1955), aff’d, 40 N.J.Super. 484, 123 A.2d 555 (App.Div.1956).)
Some employees may not necessarily suffer from a physical disability due to contracting COVID-19, but may develop a related psychiatric disorder. For example, nurses or doctors observing the devastation that COVID-19 has on infected persons, seeing the repeated deaths, or simply being repeatedly exposed to the risk of infection can cause high levels of stress that lead to psychiatric disabilities.
Psychiatric disorders may give rise to compensation in Workers’ Compensation claims where: (a) the working conditions are objectively stressful; (b) the believable evidence supports a finding that the worker reacted to the conditions as stressful; (c) the objectively stressful working conditions are peculiar to the particular work place; (d) there is objective evidence supporting a medical opinion that there is a resulting psychiatric disability (not just the bare statement of the worker); and, (e) the workplace exposure was a material cause of the disability.
Goyden v. State Judiciary, 256 N.J.Super. 438 (App.Div.1991), aff’d o.b., 128 N.J. 54.
Public Safety Workers
New Jersey law has a special presumption for “public safety workers” who have work-related exposure to “the excretions, secretions, blood or other bodily fluids of one or more other individuals or is otherwise subjected to a potential exposure, by the other individual or individuals, including airborne exposure, to a serious communicable disease, or is otherwise determined to be infected with or at significant risk of contracting the serious communicable disease.”
If it is shown that the public safety worker contracted a serious communicable disease “or related illness” due to such exposure, there is a presumption that any injury, disability, chronic or corollary illness or death of the public safety worker caused by, attributable to, or attendant to the disease is compensable.
Public safety workers include: members, employees, or officers of paid, partially-paid, or volunteer fire or police departments, forces, companies or districts, including the State Police, a Community Emergency Response Team approved by the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management, or a correctional facility, or a basic or advanced medical technician of a first aid or rescue squad, or any other nurse, basic or advanced medical technician responding to a catastrophic incident and directly involved and in contact with the public during such an incident, either as a volunteer, member of a Community Emergency Response Team or employed or directed by a health care facility.
As the consequence of COVID-19 are you suffering from, anxiety, depression, substance abuse, sleep difficulties, PTSD or other conditions, you need to speak to an experienced lawyer. The Law Offices of Beninato & Matrafajlo offers experienced legal advice to guide you through the process, and it does not cost you a penny to call. Give us a call to see how we can help you.