Workers’ compensation insurance’s chief purpose is to provide financial relief to workers who get injured or sick while doing their job. But in these unprecedented times, truck drivers wonder whether the insurance program covers them as well if they get sick with COVID-19 while working.
Does Workers’ Comp Cover COVID-19?
In most states, under workers’ compensation laws, a worker who has acquired a community-spread illness like a cold or the flu on the job will not receive benefits. Infectious diseases like the flu or another coronavirus disease like COVID-19 are not covered by workers’ compensation insurance because it is very hard to prove that the virus was caught in the workplace, and not someplace else.
For instance, an employee could contract the flu or COVID 19 in the grocery store, at the gas station, or at home and blame it on the workplace. However, to shield workers against the new coronavirus strain, several states have altered workers’ compensation rules to add exceptions to this way of thinking.
Starting in 2020, frontline workers and some “essential workers” no longer need to prove that they’ve got sick with COVID-19 in the workplace to receive workers’ comp benefits. These states include Utah, Michigan, and Illinois, with more states soon to catch up.
However, in most states, it is unclear whether a truck driver is an “essential worker” under workers’ compensation laws. Truckers would need a seasoned lawyer to prove that they are eligible for workers’ comp benefits too if they fall ill with COVID 19 in the job, and the outcomes are uncertain.
Are Truck Drivers Sick with COVID-19 Eligible?
Truck drivers are considered “essential workers” in most states, but workers’ compensation laws have been modified to offer benefits mostly to frontline workers like doctors or nurses if they get sick with COVID-19.
So truck drivers may not be eligible for workers comp benefits if they contract COVID-19 while working. Still, a truck driver could boost his or her chances of getting his or her claim accepted if he or she:
- Chooses jurisdiction wisely when applying for workers’ comp benefits (employers have a default jurisdiction, but a trucker can pick a different jurisdiction if workers’ comp laws there include him or her as a COVID-19 survivor)
- Can prove the degree of exposure for specific tasks performed on the job
- Prove his or her job is “essential” depending on state laws and regulations
- Bring a diagnosis from a licensed health care worker
- Bring evidence of treatment
- Prove the first symptoms occurred on the job
- Prove that his or her employer hasn’t taken all work safety measures during the pandemic
What If My Workers’ Comp Claim Gets Rejected?
Why would a COVID-19 claim by a trucker get rejected under workers’ compensation laws? Insurance companies could deny claims if your home state hasn’t included the new strain of coronavirus in their list of occupational illnesses covered by workers’ comp.
Many insurers rejected truck drivers’ requests for compensation because they had failed to prove a direct cause-and-effect link between contracting the coronavirus and working for a certain company even when nobody in the truckers’ family had gotten sick. Insurers want physicians to call for an investigation and certify that the COVID-19 infection was contracted at work.
Several insurers routinely deny claims because workers’ comp laws do not cover common community-spread illnesses like coughs, flu, and colds. Insurance companies will fight tooth and nail to find legal ways to reject claims to protect their budget against big expenses like lost wages while the sick truck driver was recovering or hefty medical bills triggered by a COVID-19 diagnosis.
There is also the issue of claims not being resolved in a timely manner due to stay-in-place orders, unavailable services, and other COVID-related limitations. There have been cases when the value of a claim jumped from, let’s say, $2,000 to $15,000 because the absence of the employee from work stretched from the standard ten days to a couple of months due to these limitations. Both the insurer and the trucking company will seek ways to avoid paying such monetary damages by rejecting claims.
So, suppose you are a truck driver, and your employer’s insurer has rejected your COVID-19 claim. In that case, you have several other options to get help with paying the medical bills and other out-of-pocket expenses. First, consider tapping any healthcare benefits your employer offers.
Second, under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, you may be eligible for a two-week paid sick leave. Your employer will get refundable tax credits as the government will shoulder the costs until December 31st, 2020.
However, trucking companies with fewer than 50 employees can deny their workers benefits under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act if they can prove that complying with the new policy would push them out of business.
Third, if your COVID-19 claim gets rejected, a lawyer can help you get full benefits out of worker’s compensation. An experimented attorney can help you prove that, as a truck driver, you are eligible for compensation under your state’s workers’ compensation rules and secure a fair settlement or verdict on your behalf. Most workers comp attorneys work on a contingency basis, which means that they won’t charge you a dime unless they win your case.
Truckers can sue both their employer and the insurance company that has rejected their claim. They have higher odds of winning against their employer if they can prove that the trucking company repeatedly failed to take all precautionary measures to keep their employees safe during the ongoing health crisis.
To date, workers’ compensation laws in most states offer coverage to workers who got sick with COVID-19 while working only as an exception since it is tough to prove that such a highly infectious disease was contracted on the job and not someplace else. In some rare cases, you can get your COVID-19 claim approved as a truck driver, but that largely depends on many factors, and the laws are rapidly changing. Get help from an experienced workers’ comp attorney to win your case, but prepare for a long and contentious battle.