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Can You Claim Workers’ Compensation If You Were Exposed to Coronavirus at Work?

If you haven’t heard of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, you’ve probably been living under a rock. And if that’s the case, you may want to stay there. We’ve all heard stories about people getting quarantined on cruise ships or at hotels due to the fear of the disease spreading. You may have seen someone walking around with a mask covering their face while out at a store or at an airport.

COVID-19 symptoms may manifest anywhere between 2 to 14 days after you’ve been exposed.* Moreover, the symptoms can closely resemble the common cold or flu, so it’s important to stay vigilant with washing your hands and staying home if you feel unwell.

*According to the CDC, this is based on what has been seen previously as the incubation period of MERS-CoV viruses.

What Happens If You Were Exposed to Coronavirus (COVID-19) or Another Dangerous Virus at Work?

Your work may have taken steps to help contain the spread, like asking employees to work from home and grounding all travel. But what happens if you were exposed to coronavirus at work anyway? What if your symptoms don’t show up until later? Does your employer have to cover your medical bills through their workers’ compensation coverage? Are you legally entitled to benefits if you can’t work due to the disease?

As with many things in law, there are no clear-cut black and white answers to whether an infectious disease contracted at work could be covered by workers’ compensation laws. In North Carolina, coverage for workers’ compensation injuries is divided into two broad categories:

  1. Injuries that occurred by an accident or sometimes a specific traumatic event (i.e. spinal injuries or hernias); and
  2. Those caused by an occupational disease

We focus on occupational diseases below, as it is the most directly related to a potential workers’ compensation claim for coronavirus.

North Carolina Workers' Compensation Occupational Diseases

North Carolina Workers’ Compensation: Occupational Diseases

In North Carolina, occupational diseases can be covered either by:

For example, certain conditions like asbestosis and silicosis are assumed to be occupational diseases in nature. They fall under a category that is listed and covered by state law.

Diseases that are not listed are only covered by workers’ comp if they are peculiar to a trade, occupation, or employment. The law goes on to exclude ordinary diseases of life when the public is equally exposed to the risk, like the common cold or flu.

COVID-19 is, for now, a relatively rare condition in the state, but there are already several confirmed cases in North Carolina. Exposure to the condition has been limited as those infected were told to self-quarantine in their homes. However, just because it is a rare condition does not mean it is an ordinary disease like the flu or a common cold.

Does the Nature of Your Work Put You More at Risk to Exposure to Coronavirus?

A person’s employment may put them in contact with the virus if they travel for work to an area where they are unwittingly exposed to other carriers of the virus. So if you travel for work and are exposed to coronavirus, do you automatically have a workers’ compensation claim? It depends. Simply being exposed in a work setting will not likely be sufficient for it to be covered under workers’ compensation laws. In North Carolina, for an injury to be covered by workers’ comp insurance, the person’s occupation would have to place them more at risk for contracting the virus than the general public. So you may want to ask yourself: Does the nature of my job place me more at risk of being exposed and contracting coronavirus than the general public? One large, and perhaps most obvious, example of a group that this may apply to is healthcare workers.

North Carolina Healthcare Workers, Coronavirus, and Workers’ Comp Laws

At the forefront of the battle against novel coronavirus, healthcare workers serve a vital role for diagnosis and treatment of the illness. Healthcare workers certainly would be a category of people who cannot avoid contact with a potentially infected person due to the nature of their work. We also know that more healthcare workers have contracted the virus than any other profession, and it has recently been reported that nearly 3,000 Chinese healthcare workers have gotten the coronavirus.

In North Carolina, simply being a healthcare worker may not be sufficient for employers to be required to extend coverage through workers’ compensation laws in the state. Even if a healthcare worker could prove that they were more at risk for contracting the disease, they would not necessarily be able to prove the claim.

A final element of proving you are entitled to coverage would be showing the work caused the condition. If a condition becomes commonplace, it is unlikely that you would be able to prove the condition arose at the employment. This may be a smaller hurdle due to the limited number of cases of coronavirus currently. However, it still could be a hurdle that would prevent a healthcare worker from obtaining necessary medical and disability coverage.

One fix for healthcare workers who are particularly at risk would be for the North Carolina legislature to mandate coverage for COVID-19 as a listed disease. It may be worth considering from a public policy standpoint to protect people who are placing their lives at risk to care for the injured and sick. Healthcare workers are in a demanding occupation with long hours and difficult jobs. Providing special protection for these workers would perhaps make sense given the nature of the risk we currently face.

NC Workers’ Compensation Lawyers: We’re Here for You

As we at the Law Offices of James Scott Farrin continue to closely monitor the COVID-19 pandemic, we also continue to serve our clients who were injured at work. We are committed to working with, and for, our clients, even as we remain vigilant of how this pandemic will affect our state.

If you were injured at work in North Carolina, please do not hesitate to call us at 1-866-900-7078 or contact us here.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Poses Danger to the Elderly – Are Your Loved Ones Safe?

The novel coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, is in the U.S. and will continue to spread. It is particularly threatening to those with weakened immune systems and the infirm. That puts elderly loved ones squarely at risk, especially when they’re around other people with compromised immune systems, such as nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

Here are the facts about the Coronavirus, some health tips, and things you and nursing homes can do to help protect your loved ones from this global pandemic.

The Coronavirus: New Threat, Familiar Foe

The World Health Organization states that coronaviruses are a family of illnesses, not just one virus. Several viruses in the family are known to cause respiratory illnesses in humans. “These range from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). The most recently discovered coronavirus causes coronavirus disease COVID-19,” according the WHO website.

In other words, this is a new member of that virus family. While the common title used in media may be “Coronavirus,” the term actually refers to the family of illnesses. What’s spreading now is novel coronavirus, which causes COVID-19. It’s a new, different version and was unknown prior to its discovery in Wuhan, China, in December of 2019.

Although this virus is in the same family as the common cold, it is a much more serious risk to the health of the frail elderly. Some in the media have insisted that this virus is no worse than a common cold, but the medical experts, the WHO, Medicare officials, and epidemiologists who study viruses all agree that COVID-19 must be taken very seriously.

Coronavirus Symptoms, Its Spread, and How to Protect Yourself

Again, according to the World Health Organization, the most common symptoms of COVID-19 are a fever, tiredness, and a dry cough. These can escalate to aches and pains, sore throat, runny nose, nasal congestion, or diarrhea. Around 80% of people who contract the disease will recover without special treatment. Serious illness strikes about one of every six who contract it, with the elderly and those with compromised immune systems being most vulnerable. Mortality rates among those aged 80 and above are being pegged at an alarming 15%.

The disease is spread in the moisture expelled by an infected individual when they cough or sneeze. Tiny droplets of moisture containing the virus land on surfaces awaiting transfer to other people. The WHO suggests that contact with the eyes, nose, and mouth from these droplets is what spreads the disease in the vast majority of cases. Therefore, when someone who has the disease – even a mild case – coughs or sneezes, they lay the groundwork for it the disease to spread.

Protecting yourself, therefore, is fairly straightforward. A popularly shared and confirmed legitimate missive from James Robb, former professor of pathology at the University of California, San Diego, offers these tips on protecting yourself:

  • Discontinue handshakes.
  • Avoid touching high-use objects, such as light switches, door knobs, handrails, elevator buttons, gasoline handles, etc., with your fingers. Use your knuckle to flip switches, and use disposable gloves or paper towels when interacting with other things if possible.
  • Use disinfectant wipes when available, such as at grocery stores. Be sure to wipe the shopping cart handle and child seat as well.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly whenever you’ve been in places where other people are present. Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds, using soap, and warm running water. When soap is unavailable, use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol content.
  • Keep a bottle of hand sanitizer at each entrance of your home and in the car for on-the-go use.
  • Cough or sneeze into a disposable tissue and discard. Use your elbow if absolutely necessary, but be aware that the clothing may contain infectious virus that can be spread for a week or more.

If the focus on hand-washing and keeping the hands clear of infection seems odd, consider that a study published by the Journal of Occupational Health and Environmental Hygiene found that ten subjects doing office work by themselves for three hours touched their faces, on average, 15.7 times per hour. Similar studies have produced results between 3 and 23 touches per hour. The point is, we unconsciously touch our faces a lot, and that enables the disease to spread – unless we wash our hands.

Nursing Homes and Your Loved Ones – Preparation and Prevention

Elder care facilities like nursing homes and assisted living facilities are at great risk. COVID-19 is highly contagious, and the elderly or infirm may not have the immune system strength to resist it. Once the virus hits a facility, every resident could be in jeopardy. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recently traced the country’s highest concentration of COVID-19 cases to a nursing home facility in the state of Washington.

In the face of the outbreak, guidelines have been issued from multiple sources to help these facilities increase their prevention measures and prepare. The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHS) and oversees virtually all nursing homes in the U.S., issued thorough guidelines. Some of the measures include:

  • Screening visitors, contractors, and staff for travel history and possible infection
  • Restricting activities to reduce exposure
  • Requiring all who enter to wash their hands immediately upon entry
  • Develop and deploy remote communication methods so residents can contact loved ones safely

As of March 9, 2020, CMS was urging all nursing homes in the United States to discourage visitors from entering their facilities. In the case where COVID-19 is present in the community, visitors are being restricted altogether. Where a case of COVID-19 is in a nearby county or community, visitors are being limited, which means they will only be allowed into the facility in an end-of-life situation, or where the visitor is essential to the health or well-being of the resident. Preventing the spread of this virus is on all of us, not just the staff of the nursing homes. When the facility tells us not to visit, we need to respect that, even though we want to go see our loved one. Even where we are not at high risk for death from COVID-19, the nursing home you enter may be full of those at high risk. Prevention is not just about preventing your infection – it also means preventing someone else’s.

People in nursing homes don't just need blood pressure medicine. They need supplies up and down the line.  So how can you find out how a facility is preparing for novel coronavirus/COVID-19?

Ask the Facility What Its Plan Is

Nursing homes have policies in place if there's a tornado, if there's a flood, or if there's a hurricane coming. They have policies in place for all kinds of emergencies and contingencies. What about this emergency? You may want to ask them. In fact, there are a number of questions you should ask.

  • What is the facility’s plan for dealing with the COVID-19 threat?
  • Are they well-supplied with food, medications, adult diapers and the other things residents need, and do they have enough to last the duration of an outbreak?
  • What measures are they implementing regarding visitors, contractors, and staff?
  • Under what circumstances will they accept an infected person from a hospital?
  • Does the facility have any special features, such as an Airborne Infection Isolation Room (AIIR)?
  • Are residents or patients being kept abreast of the latest developments, and prepared for changes to the facility’s operation?
  • Does the facility have ample amounts of CDC-approved cleaning supplies, and is it disinfecting high-touch surfaces often?
  • Are group activities being canceled?

The last question to ask may be the most important: How can you help? Nursing homes across the country are faced with staffing shortages as it is. There may be nothing you can do, but it does not hurt to ask. We must do everything we can to protect our often-overlooked senior population from this potentially deadly disease.

When Facilities Ignore the Warnings

Nursing homes must comply with numerous regulations, intended to keep their residents safe. If you or a loved one are in a facility that is not taking prudent steps to protect residents from this threat, alert a doctor, nurse, other healthcare professionals, or your area’s long-term care ombudsman.

To neglect to take recommended and immediate steps to protect residents could be viewed as neglectful behavior. We at the Law Offices of James Scott Farrin hope that this information helps you and enables you to help others.

If you or someone you know has suffered abuse or neglect at a nursing home or assisted living facility, contact us immediately for a free case evaluation at 1-866-900-7078 or click here.


UPDATE 3/13/20: The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a strict ban on nursing home visits excepting end-of-life visits, and even those will be heavily scrutinized. The emergency rule also included a waiver of the three-day rule that requires Medicare beneficiaries to spend three days at a hospital on an inpatient basis in order to receive a subsequent 100 days of covered care at a skilled nursing facility. To read more about this new development, click here.

Categories: Personal Injury

12 Red Flags That Could Signal Nursing Home Sexual Abuse

The frail elderly are some of the most vulnerable people in our society, so we have to do our part to protect them. Unfortunately, nobody ever thinks the unthinkable could happen to their loved ones.

Until it does.

Recently, a male staff member at the Brookdale Senior Living Facility in Smithfield, North Carolina was arrested after the reported sexual assault of a 79-year-old disabled female resident there. The accused, Joseph Ngigi Kariuki, has been charged with second-degree forcible rape. Click here for the WRAL story.

As horrific as these stories are, they are far from isolated. We must do what we can for our aging loved ones to protect them from harm, especially since only 30% of victims report sexual abuse to the authorities, and the abuser is the primary caregiver 81% of the time. Elderly women are six times more likely to be sexually abused than elderly men. In this blog, we will guide you through the signs of elderly sexual abuse and how to proceed with getting help if you suspect abuse.

Recognize the Warning Signs of Elderly Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse includes inappropriate physical contact, groping, intercourse, or any other sexual activity with a patient who does not consent or is unable to consent, is threatened, or is physically forced. Many of the signs given for physical abuse also apply here. In addition, look for:

  • Torn, bloody, or missing underwear or undergarments
  • Pelvic injury
  • Trouble sitting or walking
  • Any bruising, bleeding, irritation, or discomfort in the genital area
  • Unexplained Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD) and infections
  • Depression
  • Social or emotional withdrawal
  • Anxiety or signs of fear around their caregiver
  • Changes in mood, agitation
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Suicide attempts

In cases where the person has Alzheimer’s or is non-verbal, it can be significantly more challenging to see the symptoms of sexual abuse. If this is the case with your loved one, you will need to monitor him or her more closely for indicators. Look for the warning signs in the list above, but also monitor them for changes in behavior, lapses in hygiene, or financial changes. As an added precaution, it may be helpful to keep an eye on other residents in the facility and gauge their wellbeing. To read more about other precautions to take if your loved one has Alzheimer’s and is in a nursing home, click here.

Preventing Nursing Home Sexual Abuse

There’s no perfect way to prevent sexual abuse in nursing homes. However, knowledge and awareness are the first defense.

The fact of the matter is that sometimes, Medicare may choose to put your aging loved one in a home nearby, leaving you with no choice about where to put them. However, if you do have a choice, thoroughly research the nursing facility. Google the name of the nursing home and add terms like “reviews,” “ratings,” “abuse,” etc. You may also find reviews of the facility on the facility’s Facebook page. Be sure to visit Medicare’s Nursing Home Compare website, which provides the results of inspections and investigations into every nursing home in the United States that accepts Medicare payments. The North Carolina Division of Health Service Regulation website contains links to NC nursing homes’ penalties, star ratings, inspections, and violations.

Many nursing homes make staffing decisions at the corporate level that can translate to negligence, lack of resources, high turnovers, and poor hiring decisions at the facility level. You may uncover areas where the facility is lacking with a little digging.

If you have a loved one in a nursing home, call them regularly, and if you can, visit them in person regularly as well. Pay attention to their physical and mental wellbeing, their caregiver, the staff, and other residents at the facility.

What to Do If You Suspect Sexual Abuse at a Nursing Home

If your loved one says they are being abused, BELIEVE THEM. Let them know that you are there for them, no matter what happened. This may seem like a given, but when confronted with such a heinous situation, some people’s initial shocked reaction may translate into denial or disbelief. The earlier you intervene, the better. The National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care wrote this brief on what you need to know about the issue.

Your next steps could look like the following:

  1. If it’s an emergency, remove them from the situation immediately and call 911.
  2. Gather evidence and record everything. Without hard evidence, it can become more difficult to prove wrongdoing on the nursing home’s part. If appropriate, and as soon as you can, take pictures. Make note of the circumstances that make you suspect wrongdoing, write down your observations, and have a paper trail of any complaints you send to the nursing home.
  3. Speak up. Contact Adult Protective Services. You do not need proof to do this. You can also contact the North Carolina ombudsman for long-term care. Contact the Division of Health Service Regulation at 800-624-3004 and your county’s Division of Social Services at once.
  4. Contact a nursing home lawyer ASAP. A lawyer who is dedicated to the practice of nursing home abuse will likely be most familiar with these kinds of cases. Much like you would need to see a specialist doctor for certain diseases, you also should consider seeking a lawyer whose experience is catered to elderly abuse. They are likely more familiar with the state laws and legal procedures that pertain to nursing home abuse, and they will have the necessary experience to take you through the process.

Nursing Home Abuse Cases: The Difference Between Civil and Criminal Law

In the U.S., there are two separate judicial courts: civil and criminal. In nursing home sexual abuse cases, the perpetrator is charged and tried through the criminal court system, and the victim can sue the individual or the company that wronged them for compensation.

The criminal process is what you see on Law & Order. That is, a suspect commits a crime, they are arrested and charged with the crime, and they are held in jail under bond. They then go to trial in front of a jury, and they are either convicted (found guilty) or acquitted (found not guilty). In criminal trials, the perpetrator is presumed innocent until they are proven guilty. If they are found guilty by a jury of their peers, they are sentenced to prison.

In the Brookdale Smithfield case we mentioned at the beginning of this blog, the victim reported the sexual assault to the police, and the police came to arrest the suspect. He was then charged with second degree forcible rape according to NC criminal statutes.

The civil process is a separate but related process. The civil process deals with the damages the plaintiff sustained, and how much money should be recovered from the liable party. In civil cases, the court will likely examine the duty of care the nursing home facility owed to the harmed party.

This is what the Law Offices of James Scott Farrin can help with. We are here to help you through a difficult, emotional situation. We have seen the difficult issues that plague nursing home facilities in the state, and we want to be there for you and your loved ones. We can help try to prove that there was negligence on the part of the individual or the facility, and we can help you sue them for the amount of money it would take to cover the damages you or your loved one sustained.

Civil cases can either be “settled” before it goes to trial, or the case can go to trial in front of a judge and jury. If the case goes to trial, the judge/jury can potentially decide to award even more money to “punish” the liable party. In this case, proving negligence becomes a matter of legal strategy. Our NC nursing home attorneys can help position you to try to recover as much as you can from the liable party.

The victim of the Brookdale Smithfield case may choose to sue both the individual and the corporation that owns and operates Brookdale Senior Living for the damages she incurred. If you would like to learn more about why you should hire a nursing home lawyer like us, please click here.

Contact a North Carolina Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer

At the Law Offices of James Scott Farrin, we are proud to have nursing home abuse lawyers who know the ins and outs of nursing home abuse cases and have helped improve the lives of the frail elderly in North Carolina. Our nursing home abuse attorneys are hard-working advocates for the aging population, and will work hard to try to ensure perpetrators are brought to justice. To learn more about our nursing home practice, please click here.

Please do not wait to contact us if you suspect nursing home abuse at your loved one’s assisted living or nursing home facility. Time is of the essence when it comes to bringing a potential lawsuit against the liable parties. Your initial case evaluation with us is free. Call us at 1-866-900-7078, or contact us here.

Categories: Personal Injury

Contact Information

Asheville Law Office

300 Ridgefield Court Suite 309
Asheville, NC 28806
Phone: 828-552-8215
Toll Free: 1-866-900-7078

Charlotte Law Office

1001 Morehead Square Drive, Suite 350
Charlotte, NC 28203
Phone: 704-599-1078
Toll Free: 1-866-900-7078

Durham Law Office

280 South Mangum Street, Suite 400
Durham, NC 27701
Phone: 919-688-4991
Fax: 800-716-7881

Fayetteville Law Office

2915 Raeford Road, Suite 204
Fayetteville, NC 28303
Phone: 910-488-0611
Toll Free: 1-866-900-7078

Goldsboro Law Office

1308 Wayne Memorial Drive, Suite B
Goldsboro, NC 27534
Phone: 919-731-2581
Toll Free: 1-866-900-7078

Greensboro Law Office

300 N. Greene Street, Suite 850
Greensboro, North Carolina 27401
Phone: 336-665-7072
Toll Free: 1-866-900-7078

Greenville Law Office

702 Cromwell Dr. Suite G
Greenville, NC 27858
Phone: 252-355-5205
Toll Free: 1-866-780-3227

Henderson Law Office

514 Dabney Drive, Suite 200
Henderson, NC 27536
Phone: 252-492-4600
Toll Free: 1-866-900-7078

Morganton Law Office

216 N. Sterling Street, Suite B
Morganton, NC 28655
Phone: 828-219-3080
Toll Free: 1-844-520-2894

New Bern Law Office

1505 South Glenburnie Rd, Unit P
New Bern, NC 28562
Phone: 252-634-9010
Toll Free: 1-866-780-3422

Raleigh Law Office

4325 Lake Boone Trail, Suite 100
Raleigh, NC 27607
Phone: 919-834-1184
Toll Free: 1-866-900-7078

Roanoke Rapids Law Office

709 Julian R. Allsbrook Highway
Roanoke Rapids, NC 27870
Phone: 252-537-9670
Toll Free: 1-866-900-7078

Rocky Mount Law Office

144 Woodridge Court
Rocky Mount, NC 27804
Phone: 252-937-4730
Toll Free: 1-866-900-7078

Sanford Law Office

703-B South Horner Boulevard
Sanford, NC 27330
Phone: 919-775-1564
Toll Free: 1-866-900-7078

Wilson Law Office

2315 Airport Blvd Suite A
Wilson, North Carolina 27896
Phone: 252-246-9090
Toll Free: 1-866-900-7078

Winston-Salem Law Office

301 N. Main Street, Suite 2409-C
Winston-Salem, NC 27101
Toll Free: 1-866-900-7078