With the concern surrounding the spread of the novel coronavirus, and the contrasting opinions among the general populace, workplaces across America are facing a new job-related risk. While the spread of traditional illnesses, such as the flu, don’t typically call workers’ compensation policies and lawsuits into question, the high risk of damages and dangerous side effects may give victims grounds for legal action. Though it is difficult to pinpoint the source of contracting an illness in the midst of a global pandemic, individuals who can prove negligence may be able to sue to recover damages if they contract COVID at work. This is especially beneficial for victims as the spread of COVID-19 can easily lead to lost wages due to lengthy quarantines and high medical expenses from hospitalization.
Workplace Injuries Vs. Workplace Illnesses
In accident based work injury cases, claimants can typically refer to a specific moment in time that led to the injury or disability. Whether it be a slip and fall incident, or a work-related car accident, a person can articulate and report a clear cause-and-effect timeline of events. This allows a negligent party to be clearly identified and held responsible. This is especially true in accidents involving a company’s violation of an employee’s right to a safe work environment.
When illnesses come into play, however, building a case becomes much more difficult. The mass spreadability of illnesses such as the flu or the novel coronavirus makes it hard for claimants to specify when exactly the illness was contracted. This becomes easier when test results can be traced back to specific dates or workplaces are found to be violating the individual’s right to safety by not observing social distancing, mask policies, and respecting quarantine requirements.
Negligence, Burden of Proof, and Tort Law
For an employee to hold an individual or employer accountable after becoming infected with COVID, there must be evidence supporting the claim that he or she was exposed at work. This makes it significantly easier for a claimant to prove negligence, a necessary component in a workplace injury or illness claim. A clearly identifiable negligent party can be held liable if it can be proven that he or she acted outside of what are considered reasonable standards. A claimant can also prove negligence by identifying that a person spread the infectious disease knowingly. This can be accomplished using dated test results.
An employer or individual who knowingly violates a person’s right to workplace safety by exposing others after a positive test result or failing to honor state and local ordinances regarding COVID-19 related policies can be held liable even though no criminal act was committed. This is because of Tort Law, where a person can be held liable for damages or injury resulting from his or her negligence or malice. Tort law can apply in claims involving the spread of infectious diseases as well. Cases involving the known transmission of sexually transmitted diseases have used Tort law and burden of proof in successful claims. The burden of proof must transcend reasonable doubt in these circumstances, meaning it must be abundantly clear that an individual was knowingly the source of a workplace outbreak.
Damages Resulting From COVID-19
Contracting COVID-19 can result in a variety of damages. A person may become sick enough to require hospitalization, racking up high medical bills. Additionally, more severe cases may lead to lost wages as a result of extended time away from work. Pain and suffering, or permanent physical side effects are other considerations for damages.