As a former Deputy District Attorney, I’m intimately familiar with some of the most tragic aspects of criminal law. During times of economic turmoil, however, even civil cases can become unreasonably stressful or overwhelming.
Right now, people across the country are feeling the economic impact of COVID-19, and economic health is real health. Just as a crime can take away your ability to work or live life normally, many Americans are dealing with the overwhelming stress of losing their jobs and income, and some have even lost loved ones.
Personal injuries can be devastating even during ideal times, but now that the novel coronavirus has brought the economy to a standstill and sent millions of Americans home without pay, it’s natural to wonder how workers’ compensation and other facets of personal injury law fit into the equation. I’ll be honest—there’s a lot we still don’t know right now. Here’s what I do know, however, about the status of personal injury law under the reign of COVID-19.
My employer told me to work from home, and I got hurt. What do I do?
Everything is up in the air right now. Many companies have asked their entire employee bases to stay home until the danger of COVID-19 passes, and in the best-case scenario, these employees have kept their salaries or hours even though they’re working from home.
If it seems a little odd thinking about sustaining a workplace injury at home, you’re not alone. These are the kinds of questions that bend my brain all day long, and as the coronavirus pandemic has gotten into full swing, I’ve had to flex my legal knowledge more than ever before.
In short, there’s no clear-cut answer to whether injuries sustained while working from home will be treated the same legally as injuries sustained in your actual workplace. A lot of extenuating factors may apply, including:
- Did your employer set specific hours that you need to work during the day, and did the injury occur during these hours?
- If not, did the injury occur during a specific work-related activity, such as a Zoom meeting or when using industry-specific equipment?
- Did you sustain your injury when performing a work-related task but not during specific work-from-home hours?
As the aftermath of COVID-19 settles, judges will have to contend with questions like these for the first time. Workers’ compensation law is always complicated, but given the new circumstances surrounding the long-term fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, expert legal assistance is more appropriate than ever before.
What if I got injured in an area that was locked down due to COVID-19?
Establishing responsibility for personal injury can get complicated under even the simplest circumstances. With many previously public areas now locked down due to COVID-19, however, determining who was responsible for your injury just got one factor more complicated.
Many government facilities, for instance, are currently locked down. While an injury on the premises of one of these facilities might be the government’s fault under other circumstances, you could be held liable if it’s established that you weren’t supposed to be there due to COVID-19 lockdown.
Social distancing and other factors currently at play could also affect personal injury law. If the policies in your city or state dictate that you must remain a certain distance away from others, for instance, another variable could be added when considering fault for a personal injury.
To avoid entering any confusing circumstances, I strongly encourage you to follow any relevant stay-at-home orders, and make sure you stay away from places that have been labeled as out-of-bounds due to coronavirus. Failing to do so could make you liable for an injury that the court would have otherwise determined wasn’t your fault.
Filing for workplace injury compensation FAQ
If you’ve been injured when working from home due to COVID-19, you need to know what to do now. Here are the questions you’ll need to ask to make sure you’re fully compensated:
1. Does my workplace injury have to happen at work?
Workers’ comp law widely recognizes that many work-related activities happen outside the primary workplace. With so many people now working from home, the situation has gotten somewhat more complicated, but the law understands that you can get injured by working practically anywhere.
2. Can I get compensation for long-term conditions?
In some cases, workers’ comp might cover the fallout from workplace injuries even if you experience a long-term injury or disability. Repetitive stress injuries, for instance, often require long-term compensation, and employers are preparing for the extended coverage that might be required for instances of coronavirus that were contracted at work.
3. Does getting workers’ comp mean I have to switch doctors?
Depending on where you live, you might be able to receive medical care covered by workers’ comp from your normal physician. You may also be able to change your worker’s comp doctor if you become dissatisfied.
4. What expenses does workers’ comp cover?
In addition to medical expenses, workers’ comp can also provide compensation for lost ability to work, rehabilitation for your injury, or the cost to switch professions.
5. Are all employees eligible for workers’ comp?
Not all employers offer workers’ compensation, and not all employees are eligible for coverage. Check with your employer to find out if you’re covered by workers’ comp.
Navigating personal injury compensation in trying times
Over the last month or so, I’ve watched as an unprecedented sense of paranoia and despair has settled over the world. Millions are out of work, and members of medically sensitive groups are afraid to shake hands or even go outside. Fear is not a good teacher, however, and we often make agonizing mistakes when we panic.
Keep in mind that nothing has really changed. The rule of law still presides, and the normal processes of day-to-day life remain mainly unaltered by COVID-19. The wheels of justice continue spinning, and just because there’s a pandemic doesn’t mean you’ve lost your inalienable rights. If you need a hand navigating the complex legal framework surrounding personal injury post-COVID-19, I’m here to help.