Safety and OSHA News

Worker contracts West Nile: Did mosquito bite happen at work?

Does a company have to pay workers’ comp benefits to an employee who contracted West Nile virus? How do you prove whether a mosquito bite happened at work? 

Michael Allen worked as an assistant operator at Graphic Packaging International Inc.’s Monroe, LA, plant. Allen sought medical treatment for fever and fatigue on Aug. 12, 2016, and was eventually diagnosed with West Nile virus. As a result, he’s no longer able to work.

Allen filed for workers’ comp, claiming he was bitten by a mosquito carrying West Nile in the break room at Graphic. The company disputed the claim, questioning whether Allen’s injury was the result of a single mosquito bite he suffered in the company’s break room.

A workers’ comp judge ruled for Allen, finding him totally and permanently disabled. Graphic appealed to a state court.

Allen emphasized:

  • During the 2-14 day incubation period before he sought medical help, he lacked exposure to mosquitoes outside of the Graphic plant (mosquitoes were prevalent in the plant because large factory doors were usually open)
  • He remembered receiving only one mosquito bite during that period, and it occurred at work
  • During the period, his time was mainly spent at home and at work (he worked 56 hours during a 5-day period), and
  • A co-worker had contracted West Nile virus during the same time period.

Graphic said:

  • The area where the company was located had a widespread outbreak of West Nile with contaminated mosquitoes trapped throughout the area
  • Allen’s hospital admission report showed he had overheated during outside work two days before his hospitalization, and
  • Allen had exposure outside to mosquitoes in other places away from the Graphic plant during the 14 days before his symptoms.

The appeals court found Allen was:

  • exposed to mosquitoes in other places away from the Graphic plant, but the lengthy time (56 hours in 5 days) Allen spent on the job in the plant during the week before his hospitalization exposed him to mosquitoes the entire time he was at work, not just when Allen thought he was bitten in the break room, and
  • in the plant early in the morning and late in the afternoon when experts say mosquitoes are most active.

Therefore, it was more probable than not that Allen was bitten on the job by a mosquito carrying West Nile. The court affirmed that part of the workers’ comp judge’s decision.

However, the appeals court said it could not find Allen was permanently disabled. Allen’s treating doctor said a neuropsychological exam was needed to determine the severity of his memory loss to make a final decision about what work he was and wasn’t able to do.

Instead, the court found Allen was temporarily totally disabled until it was found that he was able to perform some sort of work.

(Michael W. Allen v. Graphic Packaging International Inc., Court of Appeal Second Circuit of Louisiana, No. 51,080-WCA, 1/11/17)

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