If you contract COVID-19 from a co-worker or through being exposed to someone else who has it at work, you may be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits in North Carolina. Not everyone who contracts COVID-19 through exposure at work will be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. Eligibility for benefits is dependent upon the particular facts and circumstances of your case. The statute provisions and cases about occupational diseases apply and can be complicated.
Occupational Diseases Under The North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Act
North Carolina General Statute § 97-53 lists a number of conditions/diseases that are recognized under North Carolina law as occupational diseases. If a person has a disease/condition found in that list, then in order to receive benefits, the person only has to prove that the disease/condition was caused by their employment or that their employment significantly contributed to their development of the condition. The most complicated occupational disease cases involve diseases not specifically listed in the statute.
Covid-19 And Other “Unlisted” Occupational Diseases – Additional Evidence Required
COVID-19 and many other occupational diseases are not specifically listed in North Carolina General Statute § 97-53. For “unlisted” diseases like COVID-19, it isn’t enough for the person with the disease to prove that their job caused or significantly contributed to the development of the condition, a person must also prove that their employment placed them at an increased risk of developing the disease as compared to the general public. Rutledge v. Tultex Corp. 308 N.C. 85, 301 S.E.2d 359.
So what does that added requirement mean?
It means that for COVID-19 and other diseases not listed in our statutes, you have to prove that your work caused or significantly contributed to your condition AND that the nature of your work makes it more likely that you would get the disease than other people not in that line of work. As an example with respect to COVID-19, health care workers and emergency first responders are much more likely to come in contact with someone with COVID-19, than a restaurant employee who prepares meals for people to pick up curb-side. That doesn’t mean the restaurant worker can’t contract COVID-19 from a co-worker or customer, it just means a healthcare worker or emergency first responder is more likely to contract COVID-19 because they are more likely to come in contact with someone who has the disease and the “more likely to contract the disease” is part of the legal standard that must be met in order to receive workers’ compensation benefits for COVID-19 contracted at work.
“Unlisted” occupational disease cases can be some of the most complicated and challenging workers’ compensation cases to pursue. If you contract COVID-19 through work or develop any other occupational disease, contact a Board Certified Workers’ Compensation Specialist to answer any questions you may have, advise you as to whether you have a recognized claim and if so, what benefits are available.