covid 19 4985549 640

Workers’ Comp 101: COVID-19 Compensability Cases, Pneumonia Precedent, Scottish Reasoning

12 Feb, 2024 Frank Ferreri

covid 19 4985549 640

Birmingham, AL ( -- In today's What Do You Think feature, the question at hand focused on whether an Alabama CNA could make a case that she contracted COVID-19 from her job, thereby making it a compensable injury.

In the case, Meeks v. Opp Health Rehabilitation, LLC, No. CL-2023-0239 (Ala. Ct. App. 01/31/24), the court noted that other jurisdictions have addressed the same issue and have determined that, under certain circumstances, employees have presented enough evidence to show they contracted COVID-19 in the course of their employment and were entitled to receive workers' compensation benefits.

Here's a look at some of those cases.

Pierre v. ABF Freight, 180 N.Y.S. 3d 337 (N.Y. App. Div. 2022). A freight delivery driver who contracted COVID-19 during a "major infection" of the disease at his plant and who did not attend any social gatherings, go to public places, or use public transportation, and had no contact with people outside of work other than his wife and son, presented sufficient evidence to support a determination that he contracted COVID-19 in the course of his employment.

Western Millwork v. Indus. Comm'n of Ariz., 536 P.3d 305 (Ariz. Ct. App. 2023). The wife of a design engineer who died of COVID-19 was entitled to workers' compensation benefits after presenting evidence indicating that the design engineer's only known exposure to COVID-19 was traceable to his workplace. Therefore, the court held, the wife had satisfied the requirement that the design engineer's death arose out of his employment and was compensable.

But isn't the risk of contracting COVID something we all face? Why would it be compensable if anyone can get it at work or from some other source?

Are you into questions about compliance? So are we! That's why we made Simply Research

The Meeks court held that there were some pre-COVID precedent cases that addressed that question.

Ex parte Trinity Industries, Inc., 580 So. 2d (Ala. 1996). To establish legal causation for nonaccidental injuries under the Workers' Compensation Act, an employee "need only establish that the performance of his or her duties as an employee exposed him or her to a danger or risk materially in excess of that to which people are normally exposed in their everyday lives."

Pow v. Southern Construction Company, 180 So. 288 (Ala. 1938). Under certain circumstances, nonaccidental injuries such as pneumonia that arose out of and in the course of employment were compensable under workers' compensation law. The Pow court held that, although pneumonia was a "germ disease," evidence supported the trial court's determination that the employee's pneumonia "was caused by the chill and wet from exposure peculiar to the time and place of employment."

Gulf States Steel Co. v. Christison, 154 So. 565 (Ala. 1934). According to the court, "the harmful condition does arise out of the employment, if, in the performance of the duties for which he was engaged, in the manner required or contemplated by the employer, it is necessary for the employee to expose himself to a danger, materially in excess of that to which people commonly in that locality are exposed, when not situated as he is when thus performing his service, and that such excessive exposure may be found to have been the direct cause of the injury, though operating upon other conditions of common exposure."

Cudahy Packing Co. of Neb. v. Parramore, 263 U.S. 418 (1923). In this case, the U.S. Supreme Court assert that workers' compensation "liability is based, not upon any act or omission of the employer, but upon the existence of the relationship which the employee bears to the employment because of and in the course of which he has been injured. And this is not to impose liability upon one person for an injury sustained by another with which the former has no connection; but it is to say that it is enough if there be a causal connection between the injury and the business in which he employs the latter — a connection substantially contributory though it need not be the sole or proximate cause."

The Meeks court drew from a source that the Cudahy Court cited 100 years earlier, the 1913 case of Anderson & Co., Limited, v. Adamson, 50 Scottish Law Reporter, 855. Although the case was from Scotland, the Cudahy Court applied its reasoning to American law: "'If it is the normal risk merely which causes the accident, the answer must be that the accident did not arise out of the employment. But if the position which the workman must necessarily occupy in connection with his work results in excessive exposure to the common risk ... or if the continuity or exceptional amount of exposure aggravates the common risk, ... then it is open to conclude that the accident did not arise out of the common risk, but out of the employment.'" 

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    About The Author

    • Frank Ferreri

      Frank Ferreri, M.A., J.D. covers workers' compensation legal issues. He has published books, articles, and other material on multiple areas of employment, insurance, and disability law. Frank received his master's degree from the University of South Florida and juris doctor from the University of Florida Levin College of Law.

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