Numerous Chicago area residents have contacted our office in recent weeks wondering whether their employer can be held responsible for their coronavirus diagnosis. Unfortunately, our answer to these inquiries is every lawyer’s favorite answer — it depends.
It depends because this is a shifting area of law, and each individual’s situation is different. It is difficult to say in a general blog post whether you specifically will be able to file a personal injury lawsuit against your employer, or seek workers’ compensation if you contract COVID-19 on the clock. It is necessary to know more about your specific situation in order to say what your legal options are.
Illinois was the first state where a deceased worker’s family filed a lawsuit against their loved one’s employer for exposing them to COVID-19. The siblings of a Walmart employee named Wando Evans, who died of coronavirus, sued the retailer in early April, alleging the company didn’t do enough to protect its workers from the disease. The lawsuit alleges Walmart was grossly negligent because it failed to enforce social distancing guidelines, did not properly sanitize the store, and did not provide sufficient personal protective equipment for employees.
The case above is unique not just because it is the first case, but because it is a personal injury lawsuit, rather than a workers’ compensation claim. Illinois also took early action to make it easier for workers to seek workers’ compensation benefits if they contracted COVID-19. The state changed the law so that “essential” workers who get sick can be presumed to have gotten ill on the job. That makes it much easier for them to collect workers’ compensation benefits, which include coverage for medical bills, lost wages, long-term impairment and, if they didn’t survive the disease, death benefits for their families. However, this change was paused, and negotiations over how the workers’ comp law will work going forward are ongoing.
For a worker to make a successful workers’ comp claim under the typical workers’ comp system, the worker has the burden of proving that their injury or illness is work-related. This can be difficult to manage without the assistance of an experienced attorney, even when you aren’t trying to recover from a ghastly illness.
The debate over the burden of proof in workers’ comp cases is not the only policy debate going on right now. At both the state and federal levels, business groups are urging the government to provide liability shields for businesses that reopen. This could potentially prevent employers and customers who are sickened at a business from seeking compensation.
All that being said, don’t hesitate to contact our office if you believe you or a loved one contracted COVID-19 at work. The Stein & Shulman team is committed to helping Chicagoland residents seek justice, and get the compensation they deserve. We are closely following what is happening as policy-makers debate and decide what should be done when workers are put at risk.