COVID-19 and the R.I. Workers’ Compensation Act: James Hornstein and Courtney Manchester Address 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 email@example.com (401-490-3952) or Courtney L. Manchester at firstname.lastname@example.org (401-490-3910).
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.
Courtney L. Manchester is a partner in the Workers’ Compensation Department at Higgins, Cavanagh & Cooney, LLP. She has concentrated her practice for more than seven years on representing employers and insurers in all phases of workers’ compensation litigation both at trial and on appeal before the R.I. Workers’ Compensation Court and the R.I Supreme Court as well as the Department of Industrial Accidents. Before practicing workers’ compensation law, she obtained extensive trial experience representing adults and juveniles in Family Court.
(c) 2020 Higgins, Cavanagh & Cooney, LLP.
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 email@example.com (401-490-3952) or Courtney L. Manchester at firstname.lastname@example.org (401-490-3910).
A copy of the court order is available here.
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.
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.
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 email@example.com or 401-490-3941.