COVID-19 Update: How We Are Serving and Protecting Our Clients

Articles Posted in Worker Comp Blog

The impact of the Novel Coronavirus is in its early stages and the toll on families has been devastating. What’s more, the degree to which the health care industry is suffering from this illness is now being felt locally. Within the past week, a 35 year old registered nurse died at Amita Health Adventist Bolingbrook Medical Center from cardiac arrest caused by Covid-19. (source Via SunTimes) Like many health care professionals falling ill, the fact that she worked at a nursing home only brought greater risk to her health and well being. In fact, the Meadowbrook Manor nursing home in Bolingbrook is one of many nursing homes around Chicago caring for patients suffering from Covid-19 infections. Similarly, a CNA fell ill from Covid and died at age 35 at Stroger Hosptial. The name of the nursing home where she worked is Mado Health Center (Uptown), which has at least 46 Covid cases. (Source via WGN) Illinois nursing homes are responsible for over 1,000 infections from the Cornavirus. Among them, Symphony of Joliet, Bria Forest Edge, and Alden Terrace in northwest suburban McHenry have over 100 a piece. Families of patients and employees at these facilities want to know when the preventable harm will stop.

The death toll continues to mount at other facilities like the Westchester Health and Rehab facility, Elevate Care North in Chicago, and Windsor Park in west suburban Carol Stream. (source via WGN)

Based on the dangerous conditions at nursing homes, many workers had planned strikes to protect their rights which; in turn, eventually protects their patients health. (source via ABC) It is expected that more nurses, doctors, respiratory therapists, CNA’s and various health care professionals are going to hire lawyers and file claims against their employers for workers’ compensation benefits like disability pay, medical bills, and a settlement or award for permanency. Many health care professionals are extremely worried about their ability to work to the degree they did before contracting Covid since many of the permanent problems involve extreme fatigue from heart, lung, and internal organ damage. Fortunately, the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act protects these rights by providing monetary awards for future lost wages and even in the most extreme cases, death benefits for families.

An article in the New York Times on April 22 noted that “outbreaks [of Covid-19] are mounting in processing plants and factories in Midwestern towns.” (Source)

We have been representing injured workers from these plants, factories and towns for over 50 years. We have seen ancient machines that were built without thought of the safety of the workers who operated those machines give way to more modern machines that may create an incrementally safer workplace but have automated away many of the jobs the grandparents and parents of today’s workers used to hold. We have seen jobs that were brutal and repetitive become modified to allow rotation so workers do not do exactly the same thing for their entire shift.

This is part of the cycle of manufacturing. When things are new they are engineered for profit and efficiency. After many workers suffer and many dollars are paid in claims the companies re engineer and try to come up with processes that are safer for union workers and less costly for the executives and insurance companies.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to strain hospitals and stretch already thin staffing resources, Governor Pritzker has asked retired healthcare workers to aid in the fight against the Coronavirus. “We’re in the middle of a battle, and we need reinforcements,” Pritzker stated during a press conference. (source)

Among those answering this call are respiratory therapists. (source) Along with nurses, doctors, and other medical personnel, respiratory therapists are on the front line of this pandemic. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, chief among the responsibilities of respiratory therapists are performing diagnostic tests – such as measuring lung capacity – administering chest physiotherapy, nebulizer treatments, and aerosolized medications, performing intubations and connecting patients to ventilators.(source) In the words of one doctor, respiratory therapists “serve as the glue that brings everything together when doctors manage patients with respiratory illnesses.”(source) This expertise makes respiratory care practitioners especially essential during this current crisis because they are operating the ventilators that are keeping Coronavirus patients alive. Operating ventilators is an intensive process, requiring significant time in the proximity of critically ill patients, creating a higher risk of exposure.

For those retired therapists returning to the work force in the midst of this pandemic, it can be a particularly worrisome time. Many of those answering the call and returning to the front line after years of retirement may be at a higher risk because they may fall into one or more high risk categories. (source) Additionally, while the public has become well aware of the critical need for ventilators, many may not understand the intubation process required to connect a patient to one. This process involves exceptionally close contact with an ill patient, including lifting the patient’s chin or jaw to open their airway, using a laryngoscope to view a patient’s airway, inserting an endotracheal tube into their trachea, and taping the tube to their face. Such close contact can expose respiratory therapists and other medical personnel involved to patient’s airways, aerosolized droplets, condensate from tubing, and other risks associated with tending to critically ill patients.

We have rallied around our first responders who are protecting us against Covid-19 and who maintain order and protect our homes and lives. Many houses have homemade signs in their windows expressing solidarity with police, fire and healthcare workers. We join in that sentiment and are aware of the risks those workers take every day. However, they are not the only ones who are continuing to work and continuing to put their lives at risk.

There is a wide range of “essential workers” who continue to provide service, continue to risk their lives by making contact with other humans as we attempt to live normal lives in the wake of the pandemic. The Governor has designated the following workers as essential:

  •  Healthcare and Public Health Operations (includes businesses in the supply chain)

As scientific modeling shows a peak and flattening of the curve by mid-April, the time that it will take for the leveling out and decline will probably last until early May. That means that the exposure that medical professionals working at places like UIC, University of Chicago, Advocate, Rush, Amita, and Northwestern have had to this disease will only worsen until the cases decline substantially from where they are now. (source via NPR) This likely means that those employed in healthcare will see an even greater percentage of work injuries due to Covid-19 than many scientists first predicted. Although people in Illinois hear the news about how the efforts to slow the novel Coronavirus down are working, they are usually not aware of that the same horror stories that are seen in New York City are happening in Chicago and across Illinois. In fact, hospitals in Chicago are running short of personal protective equipment necessary for health care workers to maintain body substance isolation from infected patients. Rather than provide the necessary equipment, hospitals are putting their employees at risk of falling ill with Covid-19 by failing to provide enough masks, gowns, and face shields. Many hospitals are telling nurses to re-use masks and gowns. Without this equipment, hospital management is essentially putting their nurses, nurse’s aides, nurse practitioners, respiratory therapists, physician’s assistants, and doctors in harm’s way.

Fortunately for healthcare professionals, the Illinois Workers Compensation Commission issued an emergency rule deeming essential workers including but not limited to EMT’s/ paramedics, CNA’s, RN’s, CNP’s, PA’s, technicians, therapists, and doctors as presumed to have contracted Covid-19 at work if they get a positive test. (source via WBEZ) The impact of this rule is groundbreaking to say the least because it puts pressure on an hospital to try to show how their employee did not contract Covid-19 on the job. Thus, when a sick healthcare worker can show that they contracted Covid-19 and were working for a health care provider, they will have an easier time succeeding on their case. That being said, insurance companies will not second-guess fighting any Covid-19 work comp claim that they can. Not only is it in the nature of insurance companies to fight legitimate claims, insurance companies rarely see the negative perception in instances where they try to take advantage of sick and injured people. Legal scholars predict that despite this recent rule benefiting all sick healthcare workers, insurance companies intend to fight the cases brought by healthcare workers as the court system starts to return to normal.

It is anticipated that insurance companies and their lawyers will try to minimize the suffering, harm, and damage done to healthcare workers by claiming that they have little to no permanency and thus deserve little to no award. While this may sound shameful on many levels, it also disregards the science that is out there related to the harmful long-term effects of those who survived SARS-CoV-1 and the data that is coming out from the early survivors of SARS-CoV-2. If the recent outbreak has just slightly similar long-term effects as the first outbreak, it is highly likely that our health care system will become weakened for decades. The infections from Covid are leaving various physical and mental health damages. Primarily, we know the lung scarring and diminished lung capacity is the most concerning part of the body that is being widely impacted. Furthermore, it is thought that besides lung issues, infected persons can suffer from bone and joint issues. In particular, we may see necrosis of the hip. (source via Nature) What is also alarming is that along with decreased lung function, diminished cardiac function is also likely. Many people dying of Covid-19 are dying from cardiac arrest and heart failure. Heart disease from Covid-19 is unfortunately expected to become rampant. (source via Nature) Even for those healthcare workers who have milder cases, they can expect to see themselves and many of their colleagues develop impaired endurance and chronic fatigue. (sources via National Center for Biotechnology and Journale of American Medical Association Network)

When Governor Pritzker ordered the public to shelter at home to “flatten the curve” of rising infections from the Covid 19 virus, he also exempted a number of workers from this order, deeming these workers essential to the machinery of fighting the disease and required to keep others fed, clothed, protected and safe. These essential workers are out in the work place every day. Each and every one of us have seen these workers in action, whether witnessing the heroism of our nurses, physicians and medical personnel or the bravery of delivery workers, food and grocery store workers as well as trade workers. There has been a great deal of concern for the health and well being of each and every one of these brave souls. Clearly, these are the very workers at greatest risk of contracting the Covid 19 virus. Governor J.B. Pritzker has called upon the Workers’ Compensation Commission to address the concerns of the union officials who represent these workers that the Rules for receiving workers’ compensation benefits be relaxed to enable these front line workers to recover workers’ compensation temporary total disability, medical benefits and benefits for permanent partial disability or death. On April 13, 2020, the Workers’ Compensation Commission filed an Emergency Rule to deal with these concerns. See: https://wcla.info/resources/Documents/COVID-19%20Page/Notice_of_Emergency_Amendments–2020-04-13.pdf.

What this rule means is that first responders and essential workers will have a somewhat easier time of proving that they contracted the coronavirus as a consequence of an exposure to the virus in the work place. This is a rebuttable presumption, but this presumption goes a long way to helping us prove your claim for benefits under the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act was the result of the workplace exposure to the virus and not simply a disease which is common to the general public. A rebuttable presumption is not a guarantee your case is a winner, the burden of proof can easily be defeated and force the worker bringing the claim to undertake litigation to prove all the elements of any claim under the Workers’ Compensation Act. Rest assured Illinois employers will likely contest and fight vigorously to defeat any claim that a case of Covid 19 is the result of a work exposure. We still expect substantial litigation and fighting by the attorneys who represent the insurance companies to attempt to avoid responsibility for the employer’s obligations under the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act.

If you have any questions or concerns over COVID-19 exposure or any other issue concerning the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Laws or benefits, please do not hesitate to call us anytime at 1-800-444-1525 or 1-312-263-6330.

Grocery store and delivery workers have recently been thrown into the front lines in the battle against the most dangerous pandemic in 100 years. As business after business shuts down, food delivery has become one of the most important parts of the economy. Across the country, workers at places like Amazon, Walmart, Sam’s Club, Kroger, Domino’s, Costco, Uber Eats, Chipotle, and McDonalds have received much deserved praise and admiration for providing essential services to millions of people sheltered and isolated at home. While these employers are increasing wages and making promises to provide protective equipment, workers are still falling ill. What’s more, is that these employees are still getting hurt on the job and they still aren’t fully aware of their rights to compensation. While drivers involved in car accidents often have the ability to file two different claims, workers contracting Covid on the job are being left in the dark by their companies.

The family of a Chicago-area Walmart employee filed a lawsuit against the company for wrongful death alleging that Walmart failed to keep its employee safe from the Coronavirus. In fact, two Evergreen Park employees died just four days apart from Covid. Both employees were long-term Walmart associates with nine and fifteen years of dedicated service. While legal scholars highly doubt the chances of a civil lawsuit for a work-related injury succeeding, there is no doubt that these co-workers’ families are within their rights to file a workers’ compensation claims for death benefits. In Illinois, workers’ compensation death benefits are paid for 25 years or up to $500,000.00, whichever is greater. While many lawyers would file for workers’ compensation benefits in a situation like this, a civil action, if not dismissed in the early stages of the case, still runs the risk of Walmart claiming many different highly-factual defenses. For instance, Walmart is already disputing the family’s timeline of how the deaths of its employees took place. Bottom line, Walmart will claim that the employees were not present when they contracted the disease. Like with most legal cases, corporations and employers like Walmart will hire expert doctors who almost always give an opinion that the injury or illness simply was not caused by anything on the job or the incident itself.

The concern with these deaths around Chicago is the lack of personal protective equipment at Walmart. While OSHA and the CDC may look into the matter, companies are trying to get ahead of the disease by doing their own testing and providing more protective equipment. At a minimum, these deaths have prompted companies to disinfect and sanitize the work place. Amazon has recently been testing disinfectant fog to clean warehouses and distribution centers. Regardless of whether Amazon makes a difference in the health and safety of their employees, the company has plans to hire at least 100,000 additional workers. On the one hand, the extra workers will be necessary to help with the heavy increase in demand for the necessities of life being delivered to millions of homes. On the other hand, many workers suspect that Amazon is planning to use the additional workers to fill the vacant spots of sick and injured workers who not only get hurt in slip and fall incidents or get hit by forklifts, but also for those who contract Covid and are off work for at least two weeks. The spread of the disease at Amazon warehouses is so prevalent that more than fifty Amazon warehouses have reported Coronavirus cases. This comes as no surprise when a typical warehouse worker touches as many as two thousand items per day and many of them do this without personal protection.

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Before the recent pandemic, Amazon had come under fire for various workplace safety incidents, including one in Joliet, Illinois, involving allegations that the company delayed emergency medical treatment for a worker who suffered a heart attack and died in early 2017. In fact, a lawsuit claims that workers waited 25 minutes before calling 911. Since the fire station was only a half-mile away, it is apparent that the delay probably led to the worker’s death. What makes the allegations against Amazon even more concerning is that no AED (Automated External Defibrillator) was provided because the AED boxes did not actually have the devices inside of them. When the Joliet Fire Department arrived, the EMTs were slowed down by security and were forced to go through the much of the 1,500,000 square foot warehouse facility before reaching the injured worker, which caused him to lose precious time to save his life. Later in 2017, an Amazon forklift operator was crushed and killed at the Plainfield, Indiana fulfillment center. Regulators found out that Amazon did not provide their worker with any safety training. In fact, safety issues at Amazon were dismissed and covered up. It comes as no surprise that the state authorities issued $28,000.00 in fines. 6 other similar incidents took place between November 2018 and September 2019 at the company’s various locations across the U.S., making many people wonder if Amazon is willing to sacrifice human life for the sake of more profits.

In 2018, the Monee warehouse reported 235 injuries. The rate of injury was 2.3 times higher than the industry average. Many people in Will County are concerned about the level of safety at the five fulfillment centers located in their community, especially now with the threat of Covid-19 surrounding their loved ones as they work to supply area families with the necessities of life during this difficult time. Most people have questioned the safety of Amazon workers without masks in the local facilities, but that may change. In announcing daily temperature checks of workers and the supplying of masks, Dave Clark, Amazon’s senior vice president of worldwide operations, said via written statement”Whether it’s fulfilling orders in one of our fulfillment centers, delivering an order to a customer’s doorstep, or one of the many roles in between, I couldn’t be more proud of the critical role our teams are serving by enabling people to stay safe at home while receiving the products they need.” While these steps are certain to prevent further Amazon workers from contracting Coronavirus, time will tell if it is enough. Since Amazon already hired 80,000 of the 100,000 additional workers they need, it isn’t hard to imagine that Amazon sees its workers as easily replaceable until more drones and robots can be used to cut down on costs.

Based on Amazon’s conduct, Katz Friedman is investigating work injury cases on behalf of many distribution, warehouse, logistics, and fulfillment center workers in Monee, Joliet, Plainfield, Crest Hill, Romeoville, Waukegan, Aurora, Edwardsville, and Chicago, Illinois. We are also investigating Amazon related to its practices involving Amazon Flex delivery drivers who get hurt on the job but are unfairly denied workers compensation benefits. When making decisions regarding a work injury involving Amazon, it is wise to consult an attorney to protect your interests because Amazon has been prepared to fight its injured workers for a very long time. If you or someone you know works for Amazon and has suffered injury due their job at Amazon, the attorneys and staff at Katz Friedman are here to help with obtaining proper compensation.

The “gig economy” is where more and more people are finding work. This allows for greater flexibility for workers who do not want to be tied to one job or who have to balance earning a living with family obligations. However, this allows employers to avoid providing benefits such as health insurance and allows companies to deny that they are even an employer.

This has serious consequences when people get hurt. If you drive your own vehicle to deliver packages for Amazon Flex or to carry passengers for Uber or Lyft, they will deny that you are an employee when you get injured. They will refuse to pay the benefits to which you are entitled under the Workers’ Compensation Act. Benefits are paid to employees but not independent contractors. Companies will claim that gig workers are not employees but are independent contractors.

The Courts have found drivers for a pizzeria and for licensed taxi companies are employees. There are no decisions regarding drivers for gig economy companies such as Amazon, Uber or Lyft yet. Gig economy companies say that all workers are paid by 1099. This is only one factor in determining whether somebody is an employee.

According to an Amazon spokesperson, an worker at Joliet’s Amazon fulfillment center has recently tested positive for the novel Coronavirus (SARS – CoV2). It is understood that the employee last worked on March 18 and is in quarantine. The worker’s identity remains confidential. There is no information yet on the health and safety of co-workers. Apparently, the announcement of this case was made on a Facebook group page for local employees. Clearly, during Amazon’s recent rise in business, there are no plans to close the facility. However, this may change if another worker tests positive. This is just one of many similar cases across the United States with no end in sight to the high risk of exposure. It comes as no surprise the New York area Amazon employees are expected to strike to gain basic safety protections at their jobs against the Coronavirus even if Amazon keeps raising their pay as they have been doing over the past month.

It is doubtful that Amazon will be able to slow the spread of sickness at its warehouses. Although Amazon may be doing some deep-cleaning in its Joliet facility, the company is claiming that they are also using social distancing despite the cramped proximity in which these employees must work as demand makes Amazon orders skyrocket and the need for more workers to be present to complete those orders. For example, Amazon is using boards to write messages instead of having meetings and spreading out chairs in break rooms. When employees actually find the time to take a break, their breaks are being staggered. Even though sick employees are being told to stay home and seek medical attention, workers can have no symptoms for several days but be contagious to all people in proximity.

Amazon claims they are supporting their sick and injured employee in Joliet, following guidelines, and taking extreme measures ensure the safety of employees in Joliet. It is still widely anticipated that Amazon expects business to carry on as usual with both its warehouse workers and its Amazon Flex drivers. In fact, Amazon has begun working with Lyft to use inactive drivers to deliver for Amazon. While this is certain to provide some much needed cash to Lyft drivers, it will most certainly not provide Lyft drivers with any workers’ compensation benefits if they are injured on the job. This is because Lyft drivers are not considered employees by Lyft just like Amazon Flex drivers are not considered employees by Amazon.com, Inc. Unlike Amazon Flex and Lyft drivers, Amazon fulfillment or warehouse workers are considered employees of Amazon.com, Inc. This means that Amazon will fight each and every claim that a Lyft or Amazon Flex driver makes for work comp benefits.

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