Airline employees and airport workers are concerned about contracting the potentially fatal Ebola Virus Disease on the job. Just as with nurses and hospital orderlies during the height of the AIDS epidemic, airport personnel are concerned about their legal rights in light of the deadly Ebola outbreak.
Workers at Washington DC area international airports are rightly concerned.
The Ebola disease has shown to be fatal, and management is difficult. Authorities have not been able to contain Ebola in the countries where it was initially diagnosed, and effective protocols are still being developed.
So what does the law say?
Under the Workers’ Compensation Act, not all diseases are considered “compensable”. There are some occupational diseases that clearly can come only from the workplace.
The statute specifically enumerates those occupational diseases that are covered under the law, including such things as black lung, silicosis, asbestosis, etc.
However, other diseases like berylliosis, carpal tunnel syndrome, cubital tunnel syndrome, rhinitis, and occupational asthma may not be covered. In fact, there is case law indicating that these permanently disabling conditions are not seen as compensable by the workers’ compensation judges who are charged with interpreting the laws and making awards of benefits.
In the case of health care workers infected by the HIV virus, where they were able to show a specific identifiable event, such as a needle stick, or blood spilling on them, and relate their workplace need for medical attention to that particular action, a winnable case could be maintained. In most cases a needle stick from a patient with the HIV virus or a cut through a rubber glove from a “sharp” (i.e., scalpel blade or other surgical tool) often resulted in prophylactic treatment, but not long-term disability from work.
According to experienced workers comp lawyer Doug Landau, “the difficulty in these types of disease claims is that the employee has the burden of proof. That is to say the injured worker must show that his or her only exposure to the harmful disease was at work, and was not from any exposure outside of the workplace. Insurance defense lawyers go to great lengths in their pretrial discovery and interrogation at depositions to elicit any and all possible exposures outside of the employer’s premises.”
The Dulles and National Airport area lawyer Landau goes on to relate that, “In the context of the Ebola epidemic, if insurance defense counsel shows that the disabled worker traveled outside of the country, visited an airport, or knows anyone who knows anyone with Ebola, the insurance company may be able to escape any responsibility whatsoever for the expensive medical care, time lost from work, medications, and other expenses attendant to combating this scourge.”
Herndon Virginia Lawyer Landau adds, “On the employee’s side, short of becoming a hermit, it is virtually impossible to eliminate all possible contact! Proving a silicosis claim for a silica worker, asbestosis claim for someone who works in shipyard asbestos insulation installation, and pneumoconiosis for a miner working in a coal mine are much easier in terms of proof.”
However, a healthcare worker with Ebola must immediately assemble proof of exposure; evidence that there could be no exposure outside of the workplace; and, bring his or her condition to the attention of authorities as well as the Workers’ Compensation Commission.
In the opinion of Herndon workplace injury lawyer Doug Landau, of the Herndon law firm ABRAMS LANDAU, the law needs to keep pace with evolving health issues, and make a presumption in favor of healthcare workers, nurses, doctors, and those ambulance drivers and the other first responders and emergency personnel who come into contact with many potentially infected people each year, and for whom proof of a specific exposure event would be very difficult.
If you or someone you know has contracted a disease by virtue of your employment at an airport or in your role as a first responder and there are questions as to what laws apply, email or call the workplace injury law firm Abrams Landau, Ltd. at once (703-796-9555).