How Rebuttable is a Presumption in Workers' Compensation?
Minnesota earlier this month passed legislation extending Covid workers' compensation coverages for certain frontline workers in the state. Governor Tim Walz signed House File (H.F.) 1203, extending the presumption for workers who contract COVID-19 at work. The prior law that provided these presumptions expired on December 31, 2021. The law applies to first responders, emergency medical technicians, and a host of other medically oriented positions.
TheFreeDictiionary.com defines a Rebuttable Presumption as:
A conclusion as to the existence or nonexistence of a fact that a judge or jury must draw when certain evidence has been introduced and admitted as true in a lawsuit but that can be contradicted by evidence to the contrary.
A rebuttable presumption can be overturned only if the evidence contradicting it is true and if a reasonable person of average intelligence could logically conclude from the evidence that the presumption is no longer valid.
Minnesota isn't alone, of course, in this type of extended workers' compensation coverage. A host of states have created rebuttable presumptions for frontline workers who contract Covid. Like Minnesota, employers in these states can rebut the presumption of coverage only if they can show that the employee's job was not a direct cause of the disease.
Now, that doesn't sound too difficult. Guilty until proven innocent has always been a highly successful strategy. A rebuttable presumption is essentially a foregone conclusion that is an assumption of employer responsibility. Only if the employer can disprove the accusation can they be “found innocent” of the charges before them.
We really must ask ourselves, how rebuttable is a presumption? How exactly can an employer prove a communicable disease did not infect a public-facing employee in the course of their job? It's not as if the personal life of each employee is monitored and recorded, with all of their social contacts being tested and traced. Armed with essentially nothing, an employer faces an uphill battle disproving the negative of an automatic presumption.
This issue isn't isolated to Covid, either. Politicians around the country have been creating rebuttable presumption legislation over a variety of issues for the first responders in their states. The presumptions put employers in the position of proving that many potentially unrelated issues were not caused by the job. In a world steeped in the mantra of “following the science,” we find that many of the presumptions being granted defy all known scientific disciplines.
Except for political science. That field of study explains much of what is going on regarding the growth of rebuttable presumptions.
In many cases, especially given the relatively light impact of the majority of Covid cases, it is probably easier and less expensive to just accept the claim and move forward. And that is probably the intention, to begin with.
Perhaps we need to take another look at the definition posited earlier: “A rebuttable presumption can be overturned only if the evidence contradicting it is true and if a reasonable person of average intelligence could logically conclude from the evidence that the presumption is no longer valid. “
The problem for employers is the lack of verifiable evidence in the face of broad assumptions. While some of the rebuttable presumption laws pertaining to specific cancers and cardiovascular conditions can be successfully countered by (non-political) science, in the case of common communicable diseases like Covid it is an essentially fruitless battle. It is pretty clear that while a “reasonable person of average intelligence” should be able to determine causation and compensability, it is obvious that few reasonable people of average intelligence were involved in the crafting of some of the presumption laws we now contend with.
At least that is the way reasonable people with average intelligence should view it.
Robert Wilson is President & CEO of WorkersCompensation.com, and "From Bob's Cluttered Desk" comes his (often incoherent) thoughts, ramblings, observations and rants - often on workers' comp or employment issues, but occasionally not.
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