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Industry Insights

Grinberg: COVID Presumption Inching Forward

  • State: California

The state Assembly Insurance Committee was scheduled today to hear testimony regarding SB 1159, the proposed legislation codifying Gov. Gavin Newsom’s COVID-19 presumption executive order. Apparently, this has now been postponed until Aug. 11. However, all signs point to the bill proceeding along the track so wisely laid out by "School House Rock."

Gregory Grinberg

Gregory Grinberg

As presently written, Senate Bill 1159, drafted by Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, would presume industrial causation for cases where the claimant contracted COVID-19 and showed symptoms within 14 days of work through July 5.

The glaring defect in enforceability under Newsom’s executive order — that the state Legislature has sole authority to draft legislation concerning workers’ compensation — would effectively be cured by this.

So I am becoming more and more of the opinion that maybe, just maybe, this isn’t the best use of the Legislature’s time. Hear me out on this.

California has almost 450,000 cases and about 8,400 deaths. Out of a population of almost 40 million people, that’s a rate of 1.1% for infections. Of those cases, the death rate is less than 2%. How many coronavirus claims have we had in the workers’ compensation system?

Just speaking as to anecdotal evidence — aside from hospital and health care workers — I haven’t seen COVID-19 claims appear as a major factor. In fact, I’ve probably seen more orthopedic cumulative trauma claims resulting from shelter-in-place caused layoffs.

The health care worker cases don’t even seem to be contested. In most cases, they are paid in full and return to work after a few weeks.

If I’m wrong, please let me know and I will (metaphorically) wear sackcloth and apply ashes to myself, probably by declining to enjoy scotch or port for an entire evening.

Now, I should take a moment to clarify that I am not minimizing the effects of COVID-19 in general. Perhaps the Legislature would better spend its time addressing COVID-19 impact statewide, rather than within the workers’ compensation system.

Gregory Grinberg is managing partner of Gale, Sutow & Associates’ S.F. Bay South office and a certified specialist in workers’ compensation law. This post is reprinted with permission from Grinberg’s WCDefenseCA blog.

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