The coronavirus (COVID-19) is affecting every business throughout North Carolina. Some businesses have been forced to close by order of the Governor. Other businesses have been classified as essential because these businesses are directly helping people infected with the disease or helping people have food, mail, and essentials of life.
While everyone is at risk of contracting the disease, workers in essential services are generally at an increased risk of developing COVID-19. As businesses are permitted to open up in the coming months, many workers are likely to contract the disease.
North Carolina’s workers’ compensation laws may allow some affected workers the right to file workers’ compensation claims provided specific conditions are met. The North Carolina work injury law provides that workers who develop certain occupational diseases are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. The statute provides a list of covered diseases, such as asbestosis, silicosis, mercury poisoning, and so forth.
COVID-19 is not currently identified as a covered disease in North Carolina. Until the North Carolina government includes COVID-19, claimants will need to work with experienced work injury lawyers to pursue their claim.
How an experienced Charlotte workers’ compensation lawyer can help
North Carolina’s workers’ compensation law allows claims for occupational diseases. The law covers any disease provided the disease is “Proven to be due to causes and conditions which are characteristic of and peculiar to a particular trade, occupation or employment.” However, it also excludes “all ordinary diseases of life to which the general public is equally exposed outside of the employment.”
This is where claims for coverage will get complicated, and will likely be contested by insurance carriers. Workers will need to prove they acquired the disease through their job – and not through regular daily living. They will also need to show that their job was the type of job where the risk of acquiring COVID-19 was greater than the risk for the general public.
The main keys, then, to being eligible for workers’ compensation benefits are:
- You must have been exposed to COVID-19 at your job
- You acquired the virus during the course of your employment
- Your job placed you at an increased danger of developing coronavirus
Since it can take 2-14 days for symptoms to develop, it can be hard to show how the worker contracted the disease. Skilled Charlotte work injury lawyers will work to trace your exposure risks to confirm you most likely acquired the disease from work.
Essential workers may have a better claim for compensation
The “essential” work requirement will likely be used throughout North Carolina to show that some jobs include an increased risk of contracting COVID-19. The Governor’s Order of 2020 identifies the jobs that deemed essential. These jobs include:
- Healthcare and public health operations
- Certain critical infrastructure jobs
- Specific human service organizations such as long-term care facilities
- Certain essential infrastructure jobs such as food and beverages production, ports, oil and biofuel, and many other jobs
- Essential government operations
- Stores that sell groceries and medicine
- Religious entities
- Gas stations and other transportation businesses
- Many other listed jobs
Workers who contract COVID-19 while doing work in these covered jobs will have a stronger claim than workers in other professions.
What benefits will you receive if your claim is covered?
Generally, workers who contract COVID-19 will be quarantined. Many will need hospital care. Workers’ compensation should cover these medical bills (to the extent they’re not covered by other insurances). Workers should also be entitled to 2/3 of their lost wages during their recovery and quarantine – with some adjustments such as that the amount of wages may be capped.
Generally, the spouse and children of workers who die due to an occupational disease, may (according to § 97-38) be entitled to:
- Payment for burial expenses up to $10,000
- 2/3 of the average weekly wages of the deceased worker
Eligibility for payments is determined by the statute. Generally, those who are eligible are entitled to the income benefits for at least 500 weeks or until they reach majority.
So far, most discussion of COVID-19 claims has focused on survivors. In time, the rights to death benefits will have to be addressed.
At Warren & Kallianos, PLLC, our Charlotte workers’ compensation lawyers have been fighting for injured workers and workers with occupational diseases for decades. We understand how expensive hospital care is and how critical it is for workers need an income. Our lawyers are ready to pursue your COVID-19 workers’ compensation claim. We’ll explain your rights and process your claim. To arrange a remote consultation (until in-office consultations are approved) call us at 704-377-7777, or fill out our contact form today.