What Are My Legal Options After Contracting COVID-19 at Work?

 Posted on April 30, 2020 in Workplace Injuries

Chicago workers’ compensation lawyer coronavirus COVID-19The coronavirus pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives. Stay-at-home orders have required many people to minimize contact with others in order to avoid becoming infected or spreading the disease. However, many workers at “essential businesses” have been required to risk exposure, and doctors and nurses, as well as employees at grocery stores, restaurants, and other important areas of the economy, have bravely placed themselves in harm’s way to ensure that others receive the care and services they need. Even when precautions are taken to minimize the risk of infection for these workers, some have contracted COVID-19, and they and their families are likely wondering about whether they will be able to receive workers’ compensation or if they have other legal options to address the harm they have experienced.

Recent Lawsuits Demonstrate the Difficulties Faced by Workers

Many employees of essential businesses are concerned about the possibility that they may be exposed to the coronavirus, become ill, or pass the infection to family members. In some cases, workers have experienced significant harm or died after contracting COVID-19. On April 6, 2020, the estate of a man who worked at a Walmart Supercenter in Cook County filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Walmart after the man died from complications related to COVID-19. The lawsuit alleges that Walmart acted negligently in a variety of ways, including failing to properly disinfect the store, provide employees with personal protective equipment, follow social distancing guidelines, or evaluate and respond to employees who showed symptoms of infection.

In another lawsuit, a nurse who worked at Northwestern Memorial Hospital claimed that she was wrongfully terminated by her employer after raising concerns about the masks provided to hospital employees. She stated that she was fired after bringing her own N95 mask to work and informing other employees that the masks distributed to employees by the hospital were less effective in preventing COVID-19 infections.

These lawsuits raise a number of questions for employees about how they should respond if they believe they have contracted the coronavirus at work. These include concerns about whether COVID-19 infections will be covered by workers’ compensation. While employees can receive workers’ comp benefits following an accidental injury that arose during the course of employment, it remains to be seen whether employees will have difficulty proving that an infection occurred while working.

However, all indication is that corporations are prepared to fight against protections for essential workers. As an example, the Illinois Workers Compensation Committee recently passed an emergency rule providing a legal presumption to all “front line workers” who contract COVID-19 that would assist employees in receiving benefits. Illinois’ governor requested that the Commission pass the rule, and workers’ rights groups, including the Illinois Nurses Association, applauded its enactment. Yet, well-funded corporate interest groups have already fought hard to have the rule repealed, exposing workers and their families to greater harm. Having well-informed and skilled lawyers working on behalf of our essential workers is necessary to counter these actions taken against the welfare of our workers.

Despite the repeal of that emergency rule, the Illinois Occupational Diseases Act may still play a role in these types of cases. This law states that if a person experiences a disability or death after contracting a disease “arising out of and in the course of employment,” they can receive workers’ compensation benefits, and they may also be able to pursue a lawsuit against their employer if they contracted the disease due to the employer’s negligence.

Contact Our Cook County Workers’ Compensation Attorneys

Currently, there is a great deal of uncertainty about the legal issues surrounding coronavirus infections that occurred in the course of employment. A COVID-19 infection can have a drastic and long-term impact on a person’s health and well-being, and workers will want to understand their legal options in these cases. If you have questions about how you should proceed following a coronavirus infection, or if your family member has died as the result of COVID-19, Winters Salzetta O’Brien & Richardson, LLC can review your case and advise you of the steps you should take. Contact our Chicago workplace injury lawyers today at 312-236-6324 for a free consultation.


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