José Rivero, an attorney in Chicago, has filed more than 30 workers’ compensation claims for people who said they contracted Covid-19 while at work. In 10 of their cases, including one involving an employee at a meatpacking plant, the workers were killed.
Every claim has been denied. The insurers that denied the claims have said workers cannot be proven to be infected at work. Rivero said he plans to challenge the denials in court.
Determining where a person contracted Covid-19 is proving to be a difficult legal conundrum. In many workers’ compensation cases, carriers said people were likely infected in their off hours, while workers’ attorneys said their clients’ Covid-19 cases were directly related to unsafe work environments.
Insurance companies and business groups feared at the start of the pandemic that they would be overwhelmed by Covid-19-related workers’ compensation claims. That concern intensified when more than a dozen states passed laws that give some employees, including nurses and firefighters, a presumption of eligibility or access to workers’ compensation coverage without requiring them to prove that infections occurred on the job.
Those fears were unfounded. Workers filed hundreds of thousands of virus-related claims in 2020, but those cases, according to state and industry data, were more than offset by a sharp drop in non-Covid-19 claims as the layoffs, closures and remote work reduced the number of workplace accidents and injuries.