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Statutory Presumptions needed to protect workers

On Behalf of | May 11, 2020 | Workers' Compensation

Workers’ compensation benefits provide injured workers and their families with critical support while they recover from a work-related injury.

However, the process of obtaining workers’ compensation benefits can sometimes be a challenge. Thankfully, several statutory presumptions can make this process easier for certain workers to collect the benefits they need.

What is a statutory presumption?

A legal presumption is an understanding or belief under the law that the court assumes to be true. In sets of facts or circumstances with room for debate, a presumption tips the scale for a judge, jury, or commissioner to assume that one side of the argument is correct on its face. For example, Maryland has a presumption statute that assumes certain diseases are linked to a firefighter’s work (Maryland Code, Labor & Employment §9-503). This means they can collect workers’ compensation for several types of diseases, including:

  • Heart disease
  • Hypertension
  • Lung disease
  • Various types of cancer

In general, the above conditions may be linked to genetics, nutrition, exercise, or personal health habits, which make it difficult to pinpoint the cause of the condition. However, in relation to firefighters, their work is unique with the constant exposure risk to carcinogens from a fire ground and the diesel firetrucks they operate. Additionally, in light of firefighters’ service to the community, lawmakers sought to lower the legal threshold to ensure coverage of such workers.

Therefore, the law presumes that these diseases are tied to the firefighter’s work, providing them with an easier path to recover workers’ compensation benefits.

Without a statutory presumption, it is often very difficult to prove that certain diseases are causally related to a work exposure. Injured workers covered by a statutory presumption have a lower burden of proof, and, in other words, a lower hurdle of proving their occupational disease arose out of and is related to their employment.

Will there be a presumption statute for COVID-19?

In Maryland there is no statutory presumption that a person who has been diagnosed with COVID-19 has received the illness from a workplace exposure, even if they are an essential employee that works within close proximity of other people. However, there has been consideration in other states to facilitate access to recover workers’ compensation benefits for such workers.

So far, states like Kentucky, Florida, Washington and Minnesota have passed presumption statutes related to COVID-19. These statutes presume that if a “frontline worker” gets the disease, they contracted it on the job. These workers include, but are not limited to:

  • Health care workers
  • Grocery store workers
  • Food manufacturers
  • Prison guards

Maryland has yet to pass such a presumption statute to protect these workers, but unions and other employee advocacy organizations have considered such an important presumption for the working people of Maryland. Presently, Maryland’s legislature is not in session to consider such a beneficial law.

However, if a worker has continued to serve the public during the pandemic and is diagnosed with COVID-19, it would still be beneficial to contact an attorney to discuss a potential Claim. Although there is no presumption presently in Maryland, the law still entitles workers to benefits who experience an occupational disease as a result of employment.

  • AABA