For most occupations, we do not yet know whether Missouri law will recognize COVID-19 as an occupational disease or injury under the Missouri Workers’ Compensation Law and, if so, under what circumstances. Many people at first presumed that since there would be insufficient evidence to make the disease compensable because there was so little known about the disease.
But the size, tragedies, and cost of this universal pandemic gives us every reason to study the disease. So, we may well understand its onset, transmission, and other issues sooner than what we would otherwise expect. If that happens will medical experts be able to testify when COVID-19 should be recognized as a compensable occupational disease? And is there any doubt we will insist upon answers for so many reasons, not just for workers’ compensation claims?
Time will tell. For now, COVID-19 is a potential compensable occupational disease for three occupations. The Governor signed an emergency Executive Order which concerns COVID-19 and workers’ compensation. Certain first responders who suffer from COVID-19 are presumed to have contracted it from their work and we also presume that the disease is occupational. This includes certified or auxiliary police officers, paid and volunteer firefighters, and licensed emergency medical technicians. Employers can contest these two presumptions, but they will lose unless they present “clear and convincing” evidence to prove otherwise. This Executive Order will ordinarily concern governmental employers, ambulance services, and hospitals. It became effective on April 22nd, 2020, and expires on February 1, 2021.
Other employers should require employees to adhere to recommendations issued by the Center for Disease Control and to also conduct its own contact tracing if employees become ill. One cannot rely upon local health departments to conduct these searches given the volume of cases. One should not presume there will not be many filed claims merely because they are not filed yet. Careful lawyers are investigating these claims before filing them. Just because they have not filed them does not mean they will not. No news is not necessarily good news for employers. Identify and document important facts such as contact tracing and communicate with third-party administrators and insurance companies.
These cases deserve individual attention. We encourage you to contact the firm for an initial evaluation.