by | Jul 7, 2023

In Collins v. Des Moines Area Regional Transit Authority, the Workers’ Compensation Commissioner determined that an essential worker’s claim for benefits arising out of the contraction of COVID-19 and ensuing complications was not compensable based on a lack of convincing evidence.  The claimant worked at a customer service booth and regularly handled cash from bus patrons.  Due to comorbidities, he was considered a high risk for COVID-19.  Because transportation employees were considered essential workers, the claimant was not required to go home due to a possible exposure, only a positive test.

At one point, 28 out of 200+ employees were out sick due to positive COVID tests.  Soon after, the claimant also tested positive.  However, the Workers’ Compensation Division held that this circumstantial evidence was not sufficient to support that it was more likely than not that the claimant’s contraction of COVID-19 arose out of and in the course of his employment.  The Division concluded that without showing a specific date and time of exposure to someone who tested positive for COVID and was actively shedding the virus at the time of the exposure, there was no adequate connection between his employment and the illness.

The Court stressed that the novelty of COVID-19 and its rapidly changing nature make it important to show the most recent scientific knowledge about the virus variants that were most prevalent at the time in question, including information regarding transmissibility, incubation period, and symptoms, stressing that the timeline is particularly important.

The outcome of this case shows that proving COVID-19’s connection to employment may be more difficult than simply pointing out high infection rates among other employees.  Each case likely requires an expert’s consideration of the particular circumstances of that case.

This post was drafted by Adam Barrett, a law clerk at Baylor Evnen. If you have questions regarding this case or COVID-19 related cases, please call Paul Barta or Micah Hawker-Boehnke at 402-475-1075.