What Do You Think: Can CNA Tie COVID-19 Infection to Nursing Home Work During Pandemic’s Peak? 

12 Feb, 2024 Chris Parker

                               

Opp, AL (WorkersCompensation.com) -- It can be challenging for a workers’ compensation claimant to tie her COVID-19 infection to their job, even when she works in a particularly risky setting. 

A lawsuit involving a nursing home worker who sustained serious lung damage from the virus in 2020 illustrates the types of allegations that may or may not get a worker’s case off the ground. 

The certified nursing assistant allegedly came down with COVID-19 in June 2020. She claimed she contracted the disease at work. The disease injured her lungs and airway and left her permanently disabled, she said.  

The trial court dismissed her claim for workers’ compensation benefits. In her appeal, the CNA argued that her condition was compensable as a non-accidental injury under the Workers’ Compensation Act.  

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The nursing home, in response, argued that the CNA could not show that her injuries from COVID-19 arose out of and occurred in the course of her employment. It also asserted that she could not show that she was exposed to a danger that was significantly greater than the danger members of the general public faced at that time. 

To establish legal causation for non-accidental injuries under the Act, the court explained, an employee must establish that the performance of her duties exposed her to a danger or risk materially in excess of that to which people are normally exposed in their everyday lives. 

Did the CNA state a viable claim that she was entitled to benefits for her COVID-19 injuries?
A. No. The general public was facing approximately the same level of risk of infection. 
B. Yes. She was working in a medical capacity at a nursing home at a time when the virus was rampant. 

If you selected B, you agreed with the court in Meeks v. Opp Health Rehabilitation, LLC, No. CL-2023-0239 (Ala. Ct. App. 01/31/24), which ruled that the CNA alleged a plausible claim that she suffered a compensable non-accidental injury. 

The court pointed out that the nursing home was just speculating at this point when it alleged that the CNA could not tie her infection to her work. At this early stage of the litigation, the court was required to accept the CNA’s factual allegations as true. And it was possible that they were true. 

“We can envision a set of circumstances in which, at the time — early in the COVID-19 pandemic when many schools and businesses were closed and before vaccines were available — and the place of her employment — a nursing home — [the CNA] was required to work closely with numerous patients who had COVID-19, exposing her to a risk materially in excess of the danger that most people were ordinarily exposed to at that time,” the court wrote. 

The court also pointed out that courts in other jurisdictions have found that claimants contracted COVID-19 in the course of their employment and were entitled to receive workers' compensation benefits. 


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