Olsinski Law Firm team

The Impact of COVID-19 on NC Workers’ Compensation Claims

Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of North Carolina Cheri Beasley issued an Order postponing most court proceedings until at least June 1, 2020 unless the proceedings can be conducted remotely with the consent of all parties. The North Carolina Industrial Commission has followed Chief Justice Beasley’s directive and continued all non-medical motion hearings scheduled for April and May 2020. These hearings will be reset on a future docket.

Medical Motion hearings, which are statutorily required to be held within 30 days of the filing of the motion or appeal, will be held remotely through the end of May 2020. Full Commission oral arguments will be conducted by telephone through the end of May 2020. Hearings before the Executive Secretary’s office will continue to be held by telephone.

Mediations through the end of May 2020 must be conducted remotely. If all parties do not consent to the mediation being conducted remotely, then the mediation must be rescheduled to a date on or after June 1, 2020.

Practical Considerations

Injured workers will be impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic and resulting court postponements in multiple ways. Injured workers may experience a delay in their medical treatment. Medical providers are postponing non-essential surgical procedures. Medical providers are also insisting on telehealth appointments instead of in-person appointments. This may lead to delays in properly diagnosing and treating injuries.

Injured workers in disputed cases likely will not have their day in court for the foreseeable future. There will likely be a backlog of cases once hearings resume. It is also possible that hearings will be further postponed beyond June 2020. An injured worker with a current dispute in his or her case likely will not have a hearing until at least late summer or early fall of 2020.

Court postponements do not prohibit parties from continuing to work to resolve cases. Parties can explore resolution at a mediation conducted remotely or through informal negotiations.

Covid-19 and Your Claim

Injured workers who returned to work after their injury may find themselves laid off or furloughed due to the economic crisis that has resulted from the Covid-19 pandemic. Injured workers who are still employed may have their hours reduced. Some workers have injuries for which they have not yet filed a workers’ compensation claim.

Our board certified workers’ compensation attorney at the Olsinski Law Firm will be happy to review your workers’ compensation claim and provide you advice about the medical and wage-loss benefits you are owed. We can also help you properly report your work injury and protect your right to receive workers’ compensation benefits.

Do I Have a Compensable Workers’ Compensation Claim for My COVID-19 Diagnosis?

The Covid-19 is a novel disease, so it is an unsettled issue of whether a Covid-19 diagnosis entitles a worker to receive workers’ compensation benefits. The North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Act provides benefits for compensable occupational diseases. The Act lists specific occupational diseases which are compensable. The Act also contains a “catch-all” provision for diseases not specifically listed.

Covid-19 is not a specifically enumerated occupational disease. An injured worker will have to argue their Covid-19 diagnosis is covered by the catch-all provision which covers any disease which is “proven to be due to causes and conditions which are characteristic of and peculiar to a particular trade, occupation or employment, but excluding all ordinary diseases of life to which the general public is equally exposed outside of their employment.” An injured worker will have to prove that their employment placed them at a greater risk for contracting the occupational disease than the general public, and that their employment caused or substantially contributed to them contracting the disease.

Workers on the frontline of the Covid-19 pandemic, such as medical providers, EMTs, and law enforcement officers, will likely have a viable argument that their employment placed them at a greater risk for contracting the virus than the general public. It may be more difficult for workers in other occupations to argue that their employment placed them at a greater risk for contracting Covid-19 than the general public. It can be anticipated that insurance carriers and defense attorneys will argue that even frontline workers do not have a greater risk for contracting Covid-19 than the general public. They will also argue that it is difficult for an injured worker to prove that they contracted Covid-19 through their employment, and not outside of work.

Washington state recently amended its workers’ compensation law to provide coverage for healthcare workers and first responders. Unless North Carolina makes a similar legislative change, workers who contract Covid-19 will have to pursue a workers’ compensation claim through the catch-all provision for occupational diseases.

The Olsinski Law Firm offers a free and confidential initial consultation about your workers’ compensation claim. We can meet with you by videoconference or telephone. Please contact us to schedule your initial consultation with a board-certified workers’ compensation specialist.

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