Is COVID-19 a work-related illness covered by workers’ compensation or can workers file lawsuits against employers over exposure?
A Feb. 15 ruling by a federal court in Texas regarding a COVID-19-related death joins other recent decisions finding the virus is an occupational hazard, which generally bars liability lawsuits against employers under workers’ compensation exclusive remedy provisions.
The estate of Marco Galvan filed a lawsuit against his employer, Blaine Larsen Farms, who allegedly failed to inform Galvan about COVID-19 outbreaks at its facility.
The farm was also accused of failing to provide Galvan with transportation, inform him of his right to seek medical care and provide adequate food or medical care, according to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas.
Died before first responders arrived
Galvan, an immigrant worker, began exhibiting severe symptoms of COVID-19 on July 10, 2020.
On July 14, Galvan told his supervisor he felt ill and asked a human resources representative if he could return home to Mexico to recover.
The human resources representative told him he couldn’t leave the country and instead referred him to a local clinic.
Galvan and other employees with COVID-19 symptoms were transported to a local clinic on July 15. He tested positive for COVID-19 and was quarantined in a home-trailer unit on the farm’s property.
By July 20, Galvan’s condition had deteriorated and he’d become seriously ill.
The farm called for emergency medical services, but Galvan died before first responders arrived.
Employer calls for dismissal
Galvan’s estate sued in state court for negligence, negligent entrustment, gross negligence, loss of consortium and breach of contract along with wrongful death and survival claims.
Blaine Larsen Farms argued the case should be dismissed under the exclusive remedy provision of the state’s worker’s compensation laws since the exposure and death occurred on its property while Galvan was an employee.
Estate admits death was work-related
The case was eventually removed from state court and brought before the federal court which ruled the employer was protected by the exclusive remedy provision.
Galvan’s estate filed a workers’ compensation claim for his death on Oct. 3, 2020, which the court said supports the fact that the farm’s workers’ compensation policy covered Galvan at that time.
The estate argued that the insurance carrier disputed the claim that the death was work-related causing a factual issue, but the federal court said that argument was moot since the estate itself admitted the death was work-related.