Will Workers’ Compensation Cover Covid-19 in South Carolina?
Although the pandemic might have passed, dozens of people continue to contract COVID-19 in South Carolina every day. Some even end up hospitalized and in need of critical life-extending treatment. In years past, communicable diseases like the flu or common cold were rarely the basis of a successful workers’ compensation claim, but what about COVID-19? The good news is that the state’s workers’ compensation agency has said that COVID-19 can qualify. However, you need to show you contracted it at work.
At Surasky Law Firm, we work closely with injured workers. Anyone suffering an occupational illness could potentially qualify for benefits, but it’s also possible that the insurance companies might deny your claim unfairly. Contact us if you need help with a workers’ comp claim.
COVID-19 Symptoms & Long Covid
Each Covid variant causes slightly different symptoms. Those who contracted the Omicron variant reported feeling headache, sore throat, mild fatigue, and a runny nose.
Some people with COVID develop long-term symptoms called Long Covid. They might struggle for months, even years, with continuing symptoms, such as:
· Shortness of breath
· Chest pain
· Heart palpitations
· Sleep disturbances
· Stomach pain
· Problems with concentration
· Muscle and joint pain
There is no known cure for Long Covid. Medication can help patients manage symptoms, such as antidepressants or anti-anxiety medication. One problem is that those experiencing Long Covid symptoms might have normal clinical evaluations like MRIs and blood work, so medical providers might not believe you are truly suffering.
South Carolina Will Consider COVID-19 Claims
Generally, any illness or injury will qualify for workers’ compensation if it arises from your job. That is an important limitation. For example, some workers contract lung cancer, but the cause is decades of smoking cigarettes, not anything work related. If you get COVID-19, you will need to show it came from work.
Some states have passed laws making it easier for essential workers to establish this connection between a respiratory illness and work. For example, firefighters often suffered from smoke inhalation, and some states wanted to make it easier for essential workers to qualify for benefits. These laws presumed that respiratory illnesses were work-related, easing the evidentiary burden on essential workers.
Unfortunately, South Carolina has not passed similar laws to protect essential workers who get COVID-19. This does not mean, however, that you can’t qualify. It simply means you need to come forward with evidence tying COVID to your job. You will not qualify for workers’ comp benefits if you picked it up at church or from a member of your family.
Proving that COVID Arose Out of Work
This link can be hard to prove. In general, it’s enough to show that your job significantly increased the risk of COVID-19 infection. For example, you might have worked with patients who had COVID-19, or you worked a public-facing job that required extensive interaction with the public. Other relevant evidence includes whether your workplace required masks, vaccines, and/or social distancing and whether mechanical ventilation was available at your job.
For example, Kim might get COVID. She works in a nursing home as an aide, where the virus is widely spread. Although she masks and is vaccinated, the high incidence of COVID in her work environment might result in her workers’ comp claim being approved.
By contrast, Jeffrey might work alone in a shop creating furniture. He does not see customers or coworkers but still comes down with COVID. Based on these facts, the insurance company (or the state) might conclude that his infection did not arise out of employment.
How to Receive Workers’ Compensation Benefits
Workers should respond just as they would if they suffered an accidental injury on the job. As soon as you suspect you have contracted COVID-19 from work, you should:
· Take an approved test. You shouldn’t simply assume you have COVID-19 based on symptoms.
· Notify your employer in writing of your diagnosis. You can notify your supervisor or the workers’ compensation claims administrator. They should start the claim with the state within 10 days.
· File your own claim using Form 50, if your employer is dragging their feet.
· Receive treatment from a doctor approved by your employer’s insurance company.
· Demand to see a different doctor if you do not believe your physician is taking your symptoms seriously.
· Follow your doctor’s prescribed treatment and recommendations, including prescribed medication.
· Stick to quarantine as recommended by your doctor.
· Attend all follow up appointments or recommended therapy.
· Document the physical and emotional limitations you experience. We recommend keeping a journal in which you record your symptoms, such as sleeplessness or joint pain.
Reaching Out for Legal Help
Workers’ compensation claims based on COVID-19 might require a lawyer’s help. An insurance company might deny you contracted the virus at work because they hope to avoid paying compensation. You will benefit from a lawyer’s experience when appealing any denials. South Carolina workers are entitled to several levels of appeal, including a South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Commission hearing, as well as appeals to state courts.
Our law firm can gather helpful evidence to show that:
You have received a positive COVID-19 test.
You reasonably tried to protect yourself from the virus, such as by masking or social distancing.
You probably contracted COVID-19 at work. For example, a coworker could have gotten it, which provides a time and place of exposure.
You probably did not contract the virus at home or outside the job.
You have followed your doctor’s prescribed treatment.
If you feel you aren’t getting better, we can also help you find an appropriate second opinion. Some physicians simply don’t believe that Long Covid symptoms are real. Your lawyer should help you identify how to transition to a different medical provider.
We Will Fight for Benefits
COVID-19 remains a serious health problem for many people, including older workers and those who are immunocompromised. If you contracted the virus at work, there is no reason to forego benefits. Instead, you should do everything possible to get medical care and income replacement benefits. Please call Surasky Law Firm today.