In Louisiana, workers compensation benefits can be
owed if an employee sustains an accident or develops an occupational disease
arising out of and occurring during the course and scope of their
employment. The definitions and burdens of proof differ for each.
An accident is defined by La. R.S. 23:1021 as:
(1) “Accident” means an unexpected or unforeseen actual, identifiable,
precipitous event happening suddenly or violently, with or without human fault,
and directly producing at the time objective findings of an injury which is
more than simply a gradual deterioration or progressive degeneration.
An occupational disease is defined by La. R.S.
B. An occupational disease means only that disease or illness
which is due to causes and conditions characteristic of and peculiar to the
particular trade, occupation, process, or employment in which the employee is
exposed to such disease. Occupational disease shall include injuries due to
work-related carpal tunnel syndrome. Degenerative disc disease, spinal
stenosis, arthritis of any type, mental illness, and heart-related or perivascular
disease are specifically excluded from the classification of an occupational
disease for the purpose of this Section.
C. Notwithstanding the limitations of Subsection B hereof, every
laboratory technician who is disabled because of the contraction of any
disease, diseased condition, or poisoning which disease, diseased condition, or
poisoning is a result, whether directly or indirectly, of the nature of the
work performed, or the dependent of a laboratory technician whose death is the
result of a disease, diseased condition, or poisoning, whether directly or
indirectly, of the nature of the work performed shall be entitled to the
compensation provided in this Chapter the same as if said laboratory technician
received personal injury by accident arising out of and in the course of his
As used herein, the phrase “laboratory technician” shall mean any
person who, because of his skills in the technical details of his work, is
employed in a place devoted to experimental study in any branch of the natural
or applied sciences; to the application of scientific principles of
examination, testing, or analysis by instruments, apparatus, chemical or
biological reactions or other scientific processes for the purposes of the
natural or applied sciences; to the preparation, usually on a small scale, of
drugs, chemicals, explosives, or other products or substances for experimental
or analytical purposes; or in any other similar place of employment.
Except as otherwise provided in this Subsection, any disability
or death claim arising under the provisions of this Subsection shall be handled
in the same manner and considered the same as disability or death claims
arising due to occupational diseases.
In general, if an employee can prove that they were exposed to
Coronavirus at work, and that the particular exposure caused them to contract
Coronavirus disease, they may be able to prove a compensable accident.
The burden of proof is a tough one, of course, because it would seem to be
nearly impossible for an employee who contracts the Coronavirus to prove the
contraction resulted from work as opposed to exposure in some other
environment. However, it is important to note that one Louisiana court
did find that a claimant was able to meet that burden when he contracted the
West Nile Virus by proving to the satisfaction of the Workers Compensation
Judge, rather incredibly, that a particular mosquito bite occurring at work was
the cause. Allen v. Graphic Packaging, 51,080 (La.
App. 2nd Cir. 1/11/17), 211 So.3d 1219. If a claimant is
able to prove the occurrence of an accident, then the usual workers
compensation medical and indemnity benefits would be payable depending on
medical needs, disability status, or even death benefits if the employee
expired as the result of such an accident.
For an employee to be able to prove that their
contraction of Coronavirus disease fits within the definition of an
occupational disease, they would have to prove that it was “due to causes and
conditions characteristic of and peculiar to” their employment. Some
healthcare workers and others in related fields who become infected would seem
to have an easier time proving their cases than others whose work would not
customarily lead to such exposures. The definition above includes
laboratory technicians (which could be an expansive list as defined) who
contract a disease as the result exposure to something that they are working
on/with. The statute also provides some timing elements for claim filing
and causation presumption, most of which would not seem to apply because of
novel nature of the current Coronavirus outbreak. As with claims asserted
as accidents, the usual medical and indemnity benefits would be payable
depending on the circumstances of the individual worker.
For additional details on the Allen
case, please review Keogh Cox blog “One Particular Mosquito: West Nile Virus Found
to be a Compensable Workers’ Compensation Claim” by clicking here: https://keoghcox.com/one-particular-mosquito-west-nile-virus-found-compensable-workers-compensation-claim/.