Like the rest of the world, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has thrust the United States into an unprecedented public health crisis. Companies and government agencies have sent countless numbers of personnel to work from home — or not at all — to reduce the risk of spreading infection. The exceptions have been the essential employees — those who work in jobs that provide critical services to the public. So, the question looms: Are workers’ compensation benefits possible if you develop COVID-19 on the job?
Here are 10 key facts that all South Carolinians should know about workers’ compensation and the coronavirus.
Most South Carolina employees are entitled to workers’ compensation.
Businesses with four or more regular or full-time employees are required to carry workers’ compensation insurance in South Carolina. Certain categories of workers are not covered under the state Workers’ Compensation Act, including railroad workers, federal employees, agricultural workers, and casual employees.
Obtaining workers’ compensation benefits depends upon proving that an injury or illness is job-related.
South Carolina law defines an occupational disease as one that arises out of and during the course of employment due to hazards specific to the job in which the employee works. Contagious diseases that happen in ordinary life (e.g., the flu) are excluded. With COVID-19, employees will need to prove that the likelihood of their exposure to the coronavirus at work was greater compared to the unknown amount of exposures they may have had outside of the job.
Getting workers’ compensation does not require you to prove someone is at fault.
The South Carolina workers’ compensation system is not fault-based. Medical care, partial wage replacement, and other benefits are available as long as employees can show they were performing job duties that would more likely than not have exposed them to the coronavirus. However, in exchange for these no-fault benefits, employees generally lose the right to file a lawsuit against the employer for negligence.
There may still be instances when it’s possible to file a lawsuit on top of a COVID-19 workers’ compensation claim.
Employers who carry workers’ compensation insurance are typically immune from lawsuits under South Carolina law. However, you might be able to sue negligent third parties who exposed you to the coronavirus. For example, if you delivered essential supplies to a facility that did not follow mandatory disinfecting protocols, you may have a valid COVID-19 lawsuit.
Compensation from a lawsuit can include money for pain and suffering and other noneconomic losses that cannot be obtained through workers’ comp alone. Consulting with a knowledgeable workers’ compensation lawyer is vital to maximize the amount of money you could potentially recover.
Independent contractors cannot obtain workers’ comp for COVID-19, but they may have other legal options.
Independent contractors are not considered employees and as such, are not entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. However, there are times when employers misclassify employees as independent contractors. Defining an independent contractor is set by law, not at an employer’s discretion. If you were diagnosed with coronavirus and are truly an employee — not an independent contractor — then you could be entitled to workers’ comp benefits.
Even when properly classified, an independent contractor may be able to file a lawsuit against an employer if he or she was exposed to the coronavirus due to negligence.
You must follow South Carolina rules for reporting and filing workers’ compensation claims.
In South Carolina, you must provide notice to your employer of a job-related illness or injury within 90 days. Fail to do so, and you could risk losing the ability to collect workers’ compensation benefits for COVID-19.
Family members can seek death benefits for a loved one who died from work-related coronavirus exposure.
One of the biggest tragedies about the coronavirus crisis is how many people — both young and old — have died. If you lost a loved one to COVID-19 from a job exposure, a caring and trusted attorney at Stewart Law Offices can walk you through the process of pursuing workers’ compensation benefits.
Essential employees who were infected with COVID-19 should speak with a workers’ compensation attorney right away.
Some workers are unable to stay at home no matter how much they would like to. Essential employees such as law enforcement officers, healthcare workers, emergency medical technicians, paramedics, utility workers, grocery/pharmacy workers, bank employees, postal workers, waste collectors, and others are at a greater risk of developing the coronavirus than others. The state is currently considering legislation that would presume that any first responders who develop COVID-19 were exposed at work, thus entitling them to benefits with a lower burden of proof.
Early workers’ compensation rulings will be important as more coronavirus claims emerge.
Right now, South Carolina doesn’t have previous case law that attorneys can turn to for guidance on handling COVID-19 workers’ compensation claims. However, as more claims are filed — and they will be — lawyers will begin to see how the S.C. Workers’ Compensation Commission decides these cases and will tailor their clients’ coronavirus claims taking these prior decisions into account.
If there is any question of whether your COVID-19 case is work-related, you should talk to a workers’ comp lawyer.
Models suggest that it could be several months or more before the U.S. sees the end of the coronavirus pandemic. If you have any legal questions about whether your coronavirus diagnosis was work-related, an attorney at Stewart Law Offices can analyze your case and discuss your legal options.
Can You Get Workers’ Comp for COVID-19 in South Carolina? Ask Us Now
If you were infected with the coronavirus on the job the South Carolina workers’ compensation lawyers at Stewart Law Offices can discuss your rights to workers’ compensation benefits in a free case review.
Don’t wait — call or contact us to schedule your free consultation now.