The California Governor signed Senate Bill 1159 into law, effective September 17, 2020, and the corresponding legislation intended to provide structure for the handling of an anticipated multitude of alleged industrial COVID-19 claims. The Bill introduced three rebuttable presumptions where, if an Applicant could satisfy the criteria, the injured worker would qualify for workers’ compensation benefits unless rebutted by the defense. Given the potential exposure associated with COVID-19 claims, more so with claims where the injured worker was admitted to the hospital, employers must act expeditiously in evaluating these on a case-by-case basis and taking an aggressive legal stance.
In the case at hand, the Applicant worked as a Janitor who would routinely clean a densely populated corporate building. The Applicant contracted COVID-19, verified with a positive test, and was admitted to the hospital where he received extensive care for almost two weeks. Through counsel, the Applicant alleged that he had contracted COVID-19 at work, either from a co-worker or from an employee at the building where he cleaned. Our client participated in an Alternative Dispute Resolution carve out, per LC §3201.7, so the matter was heard before an Arbitrator.
At the Arbitration, the Defense produced evidence showcasing their client’s COVID-19 protocol documenting a positive case, clearing that worker after a negative test to full duty, the requirements of the contracted employer’s duty to report, and an overview of the 14-day window encompassing the injured workers’ positive COVID-19 test. This evidence was further bolstered through employer witness testimony.
Applicant Attorney’s attempts to procure testimony from the Applicant regarding co-workers who may have showed COVID-19 symptoms proved unsuccessful as it was circumstantial and uncorroborated.
The Arbitrator ruled in favor of the Defendants, opining that the Applicant failed to prove that he met the qualifying criteria for the presumption of industrially caused COVID-19 under LC §3212.88, and that the Defense’s evidence and witness testimony was credible and persuasive.
A “Take Nothing” issued.
To view a copy of the Findings, please click here.