Can You Sue Your Employer in St. Petersburg if You Were Exposed To COVID-19 at Work?
Perenich, Caulfield, Avril & Noyes Personal Injury Lawyers | Workers’ Compensation
You almost certainly cannot file a personal injury lawsuit in Florida just because you suffered exposure to COVID-19 at work. The only way to win such a lawsuit would be if your employer intentionally infected you with COVID-19. However, you can file a workers’ compensation claim if you develop COVID-19 from your exposure.
The Actual Harm Rule
You must have suffered actual harm to qualify for workers’ compensation benefits. Emotional distress will not qualify you for workers’ compensation benefits unless you suffer a physical injury. This limitation would apply if your job exposed you to COVID-19, you did not get sick, and you wish to file a claim against your employer for the emotional distress caused by your exposure.
You have virtually no chance of winning a COVID-19 exposure claim against your employer unless you become sick.
Proving That Your COVID-19 Case Was “Work-Related”
Anyone can suffer exposure to COVID-19 anywhere and at any time. However, only work-related injuries can qualify you for workers’ compensation benefits. You must be able to trace your exposure to your work environment.
For example, if you are a front-line worker at a hospital, it will be easier to prove that your illness was work-related than if you worked in a safer environment. If you were working remotely from home and a family member exposed you to COVID-19, your exposure was certainly not work-related, even if you were working at the time.
Under the workers’ compensation system, you do not have to prove that your employer was at fault to win compensation. In fact, under most circumstances, you can win compensation even if your exposure was your fault, as long as you subsequently developed COVID-19.
Under the Florida workers’ compensation system, you can only claim damages for medical expenses and lost earnings. You cannot claim damages for intangible losses such as pain and suffering, mental anguish, or diminished quality of life. In an ordinary personal injury claim, compensation for these intangible losses often amounts to well more than 50% of the total amount of the claim.
If you suffer work-related “long COVID,” you can continue receiving benefits as long as you remain disabled. Your doctor will determine whether your disability is partial or total. The amount of your compensation will reflect the degree and length of your disability.
Going To Court
You can file an ordinary personal injury lawsuit under certain circumstances. The advantage of this approach is that you will become eligible for non-economic damages such as pain and suffering and mental anguish. Certain circumstances will allow you to file a personal injury lawsuit over COVID-19 exposure and subsequent illness, including:
- Your employer intentionally exposed you to COVID-19, intending to cause you illness. This is an extremely unlikely state of affairs and would be very difficult to prove.
- A third party, not your employer, caused your exposure to COVID-19. Suppose, for example, the owner of the office building where you work caused your exposure through shoddy repairs to the building’s ventilation system. This might be enough to establish liability.
- You are an independent contractor, not an employee. For example, many doctors working in hospitals are independent contractors rather than employees. In such a case, you would not be eligible for workers’ compensation, and your only option would be to file a personal injury lawsuit.
Winning a COVID-19 exposure claim will be difficult under almost any circumstances.
Florida’s “Covid Shield” Law: An Additional Barrier to Lawsuits
The Florida legislature passed a “COVID shield law” that places additional barriers that make it even harder for a third party, such as an independent contractor who developed COVID-19, to win a lawsuit against business entities, educational institutions, government entities, and religious institutions.
Under this law, a covered entity can successfully defend a COVID-19 lawsuit if it can establish that it made a good-faith effort to comply with guidelines designed to prevent the spread of the virus.
This law aimed to avoid the explosion of lawsuits that might result from widespread exposure to COVID-19 at the peak of the pandemic. Florida’s Covid shield law does not apply to workers’ compensation claims because such claims are “no-fault.”
When in Doubt, Consult With an Experienced Personal Injury Lawyer
An experienced personal injury lawyer can help you trace your COVID-19 case to your job and win your claim. Remember that most personal injury lawyers offer free initial consultations and work on a contingency fee basis. This means no upfront charges and no legal fees unless you win.
Contact the Pinellas County Workers’ Compensation Law Firm Of Perenich, Caulfield, Avril & Noyes Personal Injury Lawyers for Help
For more information, please contact the Clearwater and St. Petersburg workers’ compensation law firm of Perenich, Caulfield, Avril & Noyes Personal Injury Lawyers at the nearest location to schedule a free consultation today.
We serve in Pinellas County and its surrounding areas:
Perenich, Caulfield, Avril & Noyes Personal Injury Lawyers – Clearwater
1875 N Belcher Rd. STE 201,
Clearwater, FL 33765,
Perenich, Caulfield, Avril & Noyes Personal Injury Lawyers – St. Petersburg
2560 1st Ave S,
St. Petersburg, FL 33712,