IS CONTRACTING THE CORONAVIRUS (CORVID-19) A WORK- RELATED INJURY IN KENTUCKY
ANSWER: It can be a work-related injury if you contract the Coronavirus (Corvid-19) or any other illness. In Kentucky, when your work increases the chance of contracting an illness, the illness can be covered by workers’ compensation. The highest Court in Kentucky first looked at this in 1932 when a grocery store clerk working in the meat department was exposed to infected rabbits and contracted Rabbit Fever, or tularemia. The Court determined the illness was covered by workers’ compensation. Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co v. Sexton, 46 S.w.2d 87 (Ky. 1932). I am unaware of any other case involving Rabbit Fever, but that case means you could have a workers’ compensation claim if you contract an illness because of your exposure at work.
Some illnesses are commonly covered by workers’ compensation, such as Black Lung and cancer caused by asbestos. Those illnesses generally develop over long time periods where the exposure to the hazard increases the chance of the illness. They are usually called occupational diseases and have slightly different laws and regulations from a traumatic injury. An exposure to a contagious illness is more like a traumatic accident because only one exposure could cause someone to contract the illness. This difference could have a bearing on the statute of limitations and procedures in a litigated claim.
The most important fact in these cases appears to be if the job increases the risk of contracting the illness that is greater than the risk to the general population. So, if your work in the medical field and it increases the likelihood of exposure to an illness, then contracting the illness could be considered a work-related injury. I think the greater the work increases the danger of exposure the more likely contracting the illness would be covered by Kentucky Workers’ Compensation. I was surprised to learn studies in the United Kingdom showed health workers could have up to a 30% increased risk of contracting Hepatitis B: https://www.hse.gov.uk/biosafety/blood-borne-viruses/risk-healthcare-workers.htm. I have yet to see any studies relating to the coronavirus.
I anticipate disputes when the sick worker is not employed in the medical field. The worker must show the chances of getting sick at work are greater than that of the general population. Perhaps traveling for work to an area where there is an outbreak? But there may also be practical matters to consider in a Pandemic.
If the Coronavirus is as bad as some people fear, it could be argued that the disease would be contracted regardless of work because it is so contagious. Also, with a large amount of the population seeking workers’ compensation benefits for an illness, it may be less likely administrative law judges would award benefits for the illness.
Here are some additional resources:
OSHA brochure for Covid-19: https://www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3990.pdf
U.S. Department of Labor website:
CDC updates: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/
Coronavirus in Kentucky:
Another blog’s in depth review of many state cases relating to work related exposure to Corvid-19: