The rugged backdrop of the rising apex of COVID-19 has revealed the bravest, finest, and most courageous efforts of essential workers on the frontlines of the pandemic. This week we salute these passionate individuals, and we take a closer look at some of the legislative and regulatory initiatives around the country aimed at protecting workers who continue to serve in dangerous, yet essential areas of the national interest.
Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis ordered the state’s Division of Risk Management (DRM) to cover workers' compensation claims submitted by state workers required to interact with potentially infected individuals, and who contract COVID-19. CFO Patronis said, “If we’re going to ask our public servants to fight this pandemic on our behalf, they have to know we’ve got their backs if they get sick.” Covered workers include the following: law enforcement, firefighters, EMTs, paramedics, correctional officers, health-care workers, child safety investigators, and Florida National Guardsmen. The Florida League of Cities also announced last week the Florida Municipal Insurance Trust will cover municipal first responders’ COVID-19 claims.
AND THE CAREGIVERS
Lawmakers and the Governor’s office in Minnesota have agreed on a measure that will make it easier for the state's frontline workers to receive workers’ compensation if they contract COVID-19. The bill applies to the state's healthcare workers, including home healthcare workers, as well as first responders, police officers, firefighters, and other essential workers. Under the measure, workers’ compensation extends to any medical, rehabilitation, and wage loss costs that result from any of these workers contract COVID-19. The measure spans coverage from April 8 through May 1, 2020. The bill passed the legislature in a nearly unanimous vote, with lawmakers spread throughout the House and Senate floors and galleries, or remotely via cell phone.
AND THE HEALERS
Governors in New York, New Jersey, and Michigan have responded to COVID-19 by issuing orders that raise the standard for injuries or deaths while working in support of a state response to COVID-19. The applicable standard of care is raised from negligence to gross negligence, or an egregious deviation from standard care. In Congress, U.S. Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE) introduced legislation that would protect U.S. doctors who practice outside their area of specialty or who use a modified medical device. Doctors would also be protected for providing treatment outside standard healthcare facilities.
AND ALL THOSE SERVING OTHERS
The Louisiana Legislature met briefly on the last day to introduce legislation for the 2020 Regular Session. Lawmakers introduced SB 475, which would extend work comp coverage to every essential worker. Under the measure, an “essential worker” is any person defined under the state’s stay at home order, including public and private sector employees. However, the House Speaker and Senate President adjourned the legislature indefinitely because of COVID-19. The legislature is prohibited by statutory, constitutional, and chamber rules from meeting remotely. We are tracking these legislative changes daily and we will update you as they develop.
CASES ON THE RISE
In the midst of the pandemic, courts have seen an influx of COVID-19 related litigation. The American Federation of Government Employees filed a class action suit charging that workers were denied hazardous duty pay after being exposed to the coronavirus at the Bureau of Prisons, Department of Veterans Affairs, and Agriculture Department. "Our folks are getting sick," said the union's general counsel. "We’re prepared to carry it through. We're in it for the long haul." With similar conviction, a large group of restaurateurs, including a series of celebrity chefs are seeking a multi-pronged approach to recovering business interruption losses. The group named itself BIG, for “Business Interruption Group,” and is planning for litigation, legislation, and advocacy in support of restaurants affected by COVID-19.
Consumer related suits are also on the rise in every sector of the economy. Manufacturers of hand sanitizers have been named in false advertising claims. Fans have filed class actions against sports ticket agents for cancelation policies. In higher education, the first tuition reimbursement claims have been filed by parents of students against a Board of Regents. Plaintiffs’ lawyers have sued fitness chains seeking refunds for their customers’ monthly fees. Passengers are seeking remedy against the cruise industry. And, some news outlets are the target of litigation related to alleged misinformation. We have our eyes on the docket for novel cases involving COVID-19.
Making Our Way Around the Country
Keeping with cases involving occupational disease, Maryland’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, rejected the application of an “all sums” allocation in an asbestos coverage claim. At issue was the extent of a liability insurer’s responsibility for a substantial asbestos personal injury judgment against its insured, a defunct mechanical contractor. The court unanimously ruled that damages for continuous bodily injury must be allocated pro rata, by time-on-the-risk, across all insured and insurable periods that are triggered by a claimant’s injuries. The ruling brings Maryland into the majority of jurisdictions who have adopted pro rata allocation in the “long tail” context.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced that the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) extended the grace period to renew flood insurance policies from 30 to 120 days. This extension applies to NFIP flood insurance policies with an expiration date between February 13TH and June 15th of this year. To avoid a lapse in coverage, there is typically a 30-day grace period to renew policies. However, due to the widespread economic disruption arising from this pandemic, FEMA recognizes that flood insurance policyholders may not meet the standard policy renewal deadline.
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued interim enforcement guidance to help combat supply shortages of disposable N95 filtering face piece respirators (N95 FFRs). Due to the impact on workplace conditions caused by limited supplies of N95 FFRs, employers should reassess their engineering controls, work practices, and administrative controls to identify any changes they can make to decrease the need for N95 respirators. For more information on safety practices amid the pandemic, including the agency’s new safety poster, see OSHA’s COVID-19 webpage for regular updates.
HOW LONG SHALL THE WICKED TRIUMPH?
Momentarily. The Virginia Coronavirus Fraud Task Force and Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigations departments are urging taxpayers to be extra cautious of scams during the pandemic. The U.S. Attorney General has warned that the pandemic conditions can give rise to scams and illegitimate behavior set to prey upon the vulnerable. For more information on the topic, the Federal Trade Commission published a list of additional scams and related threats tied to COVID-19. Stay safe. Stay well. Stay connected.