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COVID-19 and the R.I. Workers’ Compensation Act: James Hornstein Addresses Key Questions

Would a claim for COVID-19 be considered a compensable occupational disease injury under the R.I. Workers’ Compensation Act?

If it is shown that the infection caused a disability “arising from any cause connected with or arising from the particular characteristics of the employment,” it would fall under the Occupational Disease section of the Workers’ Compensation Act, specifically, R.I. General Laws 28-34-2 (34). It is not by definition listed as an occupational disease. The employee must demonstrate that the infection was the result of a workplace exposure and no other possible sources.

What makes the claim compensable under the R.I. Workers’ Compensation Act?

An employee would have to demonstrate that the condition was the result of exposure that arose out of and in the scope of one’s work. There is no presumption that it is work-related. The employee would have to show by a preponderance of the evidence that the condition was likely the result of a workplace exposure.

If the employee is directed by the employer to quarantine due to possible exposure at work (and the employer is continuing full salary for 14 days), does the employer’s direction make the claim compensable under the Workers’ Compensation Act?

The mandate of a quarantine would not, itself, make the claim compensable under the Workers’ Compensation Act as there is no injury. Any payments to the employee for the forced time off would be governed by the policy of the employer, state or federal mandates, and not the Workers’ Compensation Act as there is no injury and no disability.

Can the start of TTD benefits be delayed if the employee’s disability extends beyond 14 days and if the employee receives full salary for the first two weeks?

Probably yes, as most employees would prefer to receive the salary rather than the reduced weekly benefit that is workers’ compensation. However, if the employee is totally disabled, the payments could be seen as gratuitous, which would require payment of workers’ compensation benefits during the period that the salary was received.

If you have any questions whatsoever about any of these new developments or any pending workers’ compensation issue, please contact James T. Hornstein at jhornstein@hcc-law.com (401-490-3952)

Disclaimer: This information is not intended as legal advice. One should consult a qualified attorney before acting on any of this information. This is provided for informational purposes only and no attorney-client relationship should be inferred.

James T. Hornstein is the managing partner of the Workers’ Compensation Department at Higgins, Cavanagh & Cooney, LLP. For more than 30 years, his practice has focused on the counseling and representation of employers, insurance carriers, self-insured corporations, as well as third-party administrators and claims servicing agencies in all aspects of workers’ compensation defense before the R.I. Workers’ Compensation Court, the Department of Industrial Accidents, and the R.I. Supreme Court.

(c) 2020 Higgins, Cavanagh & Cooney, LLP.

2020-07-21T15:29:14-04:00April 15th, 2020|

R.I. Workers’ Compensation Court Announces New COVID-19 Guidelines

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic and in accordance with the Governor’s continued directives and the orders of the R.I. Supreme Court, the R.I. Workers’ Compensation Court has taken the following actions through May 17, 2020.

  • Effective April 20, 2020, the court will hear its pretrial calendar either telephonically or by video conference. If the parties cannot agree to have their matter heard remotely, they shall advise the court and the matter shall be continued to a date in June (provided that the court is operational). The court will also hear contested cases if agreed to by the parties.
  • The court will continue to hear remotely other matters previously scheduled including but not limited to initial hearings, motions, and status conferences.
  • The court will allow the filing of stipulations, consent decrees, and final decrees disposing of cases.
  • The court will continue to hear commutations and denials and dismissals remotely, either telephonically or by video conference. In lieu of the employee’s in-person testimony, parties shall file an employee affidavit or interrogatories.
  • Settlements will be heard on the record with a stenographer present. Employees or employers may also take part in the telephonic or video hearing.
  • The chief judge will be available to hear urgent matters.
  • All trials shall be continued to a date after May 17, 2020.
  • All appellate arguments shall be continued to a date after May 17, 2020.
  • By agreement of the parties, the court will hear mediations remotely.
  • All court Impartial Medical Exams (IMEs) are suspended through May 7, 2020.
  • Public access to all court proceedings shall be available by telephone or other means.

If you have questions whatsoever about any of these new requirements, please contact James T. Hornstein at jhornstein@hcc-law.com (401-490-3952)

A copy of the court order is available here.

2020-06-24T06:29:06-04:00April 14th, 2020|

The Noel Courthouse and Traffic Tribunal Closed: Emergency Matters Shift To Providence

A law enforcement officer who had entered the Noel Judicial Complex on April 2 and an employee assigned to the Rhode Island Traffic Tribunal were recently tested positive for COVID-19.

As a result, Rhode Island Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul A. Suttell issued an executive order on April 5, closing the Noel Judicial Complex in Warwick (serving Kent County) and the Rhode Island Traffic Tribunal in Cranston. The closures took effect April 6 and will continue until further notice. A copy of that executive order is available here.

As of April 6, any emergency or essential matters for the Superior Court, which would have been heard in Kent, Newport or Washington Counties, shall be heard at the Licht Judicial Complex in Providence.

Any emergency or essential matters arising in the Rhode Island Family Court, Rhode Island District Court, and Rhode Island Traffic Tribunal, which would have been heard in either the Noel Judicial Complex in Warwick or the Rhode Island Traffic Tribunal in Cranston, shall now be heard in the Garrahy Judicial Complex in Providence.

Chief Justice Suttell had earlier issued an executive order closing both the McGrath Judicial Complex in South Kingstown (serving Washington County) and the Murray Judicial Complex in Newport (serving Newport County) effective April 1 and until further notice. A copy of that article is available here.

2020-04-07T15:07:09-04:00April 7th, 2020|

COVID-19 Update: Courthouses in Washington and Newport Counties Closed Until Further Notice

In light of the ongoing public health crisis arising from the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Rhode Island Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul A. Suttell has signed an executive order closing the McGrath Judicial Complex in South Kingstown (serving Washington County) and the Murray Judicial Complex in Newport (serving Newport County) effective April 1 and until further notice.

The number of hearings being heard within the state’s courts has been significantly reduced, as has the amount of foot traffic to each of the judicial buildings; this is especially true in the Newport and Washington County courthouses. Hence the closures of these two court complexes.

As of April 1, 2020, any emergency or essential matters which would have been heard in either of the judicial buildings in South Kingstown or Newport shall be heard in the Noel Judicial Complex in Warwick (serving Kent County).

Chief Justice Suttell also signed and issued a separate executive order limiting the number of on-site staff and other essential personnel from congregating in groups of more than five people, which is consistent with Governor Gina Raimondo’s directive on social distancing.

To the extent that more than five individuals are required to be present in a courtroom for the adjudication of emergency and essential matters, the Chief Justice has directed that such hearings be conducted in a manner that will ensure appropriate distancing among all necessary participants.

If you have questions about any of these court orders or any pending legal matter, please do not hesitate to contact any of the partners at the firm.

2020-04-06T09:36:40-04:00April 1st, 2020|

Rhode Island Superior Court Launches COVID-19 Business Recovery Plan

Rhode Island Superior Court Presiding Justice Alice B. Gibney has initiated a business protection program in response to disruptions caused by the coronavirus public health crisis. A copy of that administrative order is available here.

Under the COVID-19 Business Recovery Plan, the court will supervise and provide protections for Rhode Island businesses that are intended to allow businesses to remain operational, access new working capital, and pay debts.

The court will use a non-liquidating receivership model, which will help keep the business and its assets intact. The court will appoint receivers to oversee the preparation of an operating plan for businesses in the program.

Once new working capital, such as disaster relief or small business assistance, is obtained, the business will be able to continue operations, address its debts, and begin to generate revenues again.

The Superior Court has also addressed a series of frequently asked questions that businesses can expect to face in seeking protection under the new COVID-19 Business Recovery Plan. That information is available here.

Businesses filing for relief must be represented by legal counsel. If you have any questions regarding the COVID-19 Business Recovery Plan, please contact Attorney Melissa M. Horne at mhorne@hcc-law.com or 401-490-3941.

2020-04-01T18:13:53-04:00April 1st, 2020|

Latest Court Orders Affecting State and Federal Cases in Rhode Island

One of the newest guidelines in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic issued by R.I. Governor Gina Raimondo is Executive Order 20-09 requiring all business service personnel that can work from home to do so.

This Executive Order applies to accountants, lawyers, human resources, and procurement professionals among others. Higgins, Cavanagh & Cooney has adhered to this directive in advance of its enactment with no interruption of legal services.

At the same time, the state and federal courts in Rhode Island have issued their own scheduling orders in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The R.I. Supreme Court has issued multiple Executive Orders:

For Executive Order 2020-05 related to the specific operations of the Supreme Court, click here.

For Executive Order 2020-04 related to all state court operations, click here.

For Executive Order 2020-03 related to duty magistrates and judges of the Superior Court assigned to emergency/essential matters, click here.

For Executive Order 2020-02 related to Workers’ Compensation Court operations, click here.

For Executive Order 2020-01 related to the suspension of Family Court calendars, click here.

The U.S. District Court has also issued a General Order regarding court operations in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, click here.

In addition, the U.S. District Court has issued a subsequent General Order addressing all criminal matters in that court, click here.

Finally, the U.S. Bankruptcy Judge for the District of Rhode Island has issued a General Order related to the Bankruptcy Court operations, click here.

If you have questions about any of these scheduling orders or any pending legal matter, please do not hesitate to contact any of the partners at the firm.

2020-03-24T12:36:07-04:00March 24th, 2020|

The Coronavirus (COVID-19): An Update To Our Clients

Dear Friends and Clients,

In response to federal and state government guidelines and public concerns over the expansion of the coronavirus (COVID-19), Higgins, Cavanagh & Cooney is implementing a series of preventative measures.

Higgins, Cavanagh & Cooney offices have transferred almost all business operations remotely for the time being. Given the technology in place, there will be no interruption of legal services during this time and all data will be secured.

Our lawyers and staff will work remotely with easy access to emails and voicemails; meetings will take place using Skype, similar online platforms or conference calling, and all work travel has been suspended. We hope these steps will protect our staff, clients and others, and contribute to the well-being of the communities we serve.

As for court emergencies, we are monitoring the directives of court officials and will inform our clients on a case by case basis on how best to proceed with any essential legal matter.

We thank you for your cooperation during this difficult time and hope that you, your colleagues and your families stay safe.

If you have questions about any of these developments or any pending legal matter, please do not hesitate to contact any of the partners at the firm.

Sincerely,

James A. Ruggieri
Managing Partner
Higgins, Cavanagh & Cooney, LLP

2020-03-17T17:31:33-04:00March 17th, 2020|

James Ruggieri Recognized by Two Leading Legal Journals

Higgins, Cavanagh & Cooney is pleased to announce that James A. Ruggieri was recently recognized by Corporate Counsel and The American Lawyer magazines as a “2020 Top Rated Litigator.” The HCC managing partner maintains an active product liability and employment law practice.

The designation by these publications features lawyers who have achieved an AV-Preeminent Peer Review Rating from Martindale-Hubbell©, which is the highest rating obtainable for legal ability and ethical standards.

Corporate Counsel offers news and information for chief legal officers and in-house counsel across the country. The American Lawyer covers the latest developments and other critical issues within the legal profession for attorneys around the globe. The publications have a combined distribution of nearly a quarter of a million readers.

2020-03-12T17:41:21-04:00March 12th, 2020|

HCC To Conduct Blood Drive

Higgins, Cavanagh & Cooney, LLP will be sponsoring a blood drive at the law firm’s Providence offices in memory of the late Gianna Cirella of Warwick who faced a challenge too great to fight.

The blood drive will be held in conjunction with the Rhode Island Blood Center. This marks the second consecutive year that Higgins, Cavanagh & Cooney is a proud sponsor of this event. The firm’s lawyers, staff and community members will be participating.

On November 1, 2017, Gianna passed away peacefully surrounded by her family. “Not every story has a happy ending,” said her mother, Tara Cirella, adding “but everyone deserves the fighting chance that blood donors give them.”

Tara Cirella, Gianna’s mother, is a longstanding and highly regarded HCC staff member. She is the firm’s billing and accounts receivable coordinator.

Within days of developing a sore throat, Gianna developed pneumonia and sepsis, a life-threatening infection in her blood. During her 16-day fight for life, she needed 174 blood, platelet and plasma transfusions, which came from Rhode Island Blood Center donors.

“Gianna would not have survived one day without blood. I hope she has make people not afraid to donate. I also hope she has shown how very important it is to give blood,” Tara Cirella said.

For information on donating, contact the Rhode Island Blood Center at 800-283-8385.

For information about the Gina Cirella Memorial Fund, visit www.gistrong.org A video tribute to Gianna can be found at http://bit.ly/GiStrong

2020-03-17T15:36:22-04:00February 20th, 2020|

Attorney Hultman Victorious in Superior Court

Following a recent bench trial in Providence County Superior Court, HCC partner Kristina I. Hultman secured a verdict in favor of the defendant, a major national retailer, in a premises liability case.

Plaintiff claimed ongoing injuries which she alleged were sustained while attempting to select and purchase a watermelon. The plaintiff’s allegations against the defendant, a big-box retailer, were that the watermelons were negligently displayed and stocked in such a manner that it was foreseeable that a customer could be injured while attempting to lift and purchase a watermelon. Attorney Hultman successfully disputed the plaintiff’s claims that the manner in which the produce was displayed for sale constituted a hazardous condition.

The case was originally filed, and tried to a conclusion, in the District Court, where Attorney Hultman had secured a defense verdict. The plaintiff then appealed to the Superior Court for a trial de novo. After hearing testimony from both the plaintiff and a former employee of the defendant, an Associate Justice of the Superior Court deliberated before returning a verdict in favor of the Defendant.

Detailed findings of fact were issued, and the Court ultimately found that the manner in which the watermelons were displayed did not constitute a hazardous condition. The Court further found that, even if there had been a hazardous condition, there was no evidence of causation as the plaintiff had been unable to testify as to the mechanism of her injury.

In addition to maintaining an active civil litigation practice at HCC, Attorney Hultman is the Treasurer of Defense Counsel of Rhode Island and the Rhode Island State Membership Chair of Defense Research Institute (DRI). In 2019 she was named as a Super Lawyers “Rising Star” for the fifth consecutive year.

2020-02-04T15:47:50-05:00January 24th, 2020|