Cornavirus and Workers' Compensation in Virginia - Part 2: Similarities with a Tuberculosis Case

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SPECIAL EDITION

Read the full 4-part Workers’ Comp and COVID-19 Update.

The Court of Appeals of Virginia considered whether a claimant’s tuberculosis was a compensable ordinary disease of life. Will the Court’s analysis be instructive in evaluating coronavirus claims that will inevitably be filed in the coming months?

In Lindenfeld v. City of Richmond Sheriff’s Office, 25 Va. App 775 (1997), the Court of Appeals of Virginia considered whether a claimant’s tuberculosis was a compensable ordinary disease of life and the Court’s analysis may be instructive in evaluating the coronavirus claims that will inevitably be filed in the coming months.  Tuberculosis spreads from person to person through microscopic droplets released into the air when a person with active tuberculosis coughs, speaks, sneezes, spits, laughs, or sings.[1]  Much like tuberculosis, the World Health Organization has suggested that coronavirus can spread from person to person through small droplets from the nose or mouth when an infected person coughs or exhales.[2] 

The claimant in Lindenfeld, was a deputy sheriff in a jail containing inmates with active and confirmed tuberculosis diagnoses. The chief physician at the jail testified that the rate of tuberculosis among prison inmates was higher than in the general public.  The claimant did not know if he had contact with any person inside or outside of the jail with active tuberculosis. 

The expert medical opinions in the case were in conflict.  The first physician did not know how the claimant contracted tuberculosis and the second thought it was possible that the claimant may have been infected in the jail.  The third physician testified that it was more likely than not that the claimant contracted tuberculosis in the jail but could not rule out the possibility that the claimant was infected outside of work.

The Court of Appeals stated that “although claimant established that his risk of TB infection at the jail was greater than in the general public and eliminated some possible sources of infection from outside of his employment, these facts alone do not compel the conclusion that he inhaled the TB bacteria while working in the jail.  Instead, these facts merely show through an incomplete process of elimination that claimant may have contracted tuberculosis while at work.”  The Court affirmed the Commission’s denial, holding that the claimant’s tuberculosis was a non-compensable ordinary disease of life.

[1] https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/tuberculosis/symptoms-causes/syc-20351250

[2] https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/q-a-coronaviruses

Part 1 - A ‘Disease’

Part 3 - Coronavirus First Responder Presumption Cases

Part 4 -

Presumption Claims and the Unknown Effects of Coronavirus

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