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LEGAL RIGHTS OF FIRST RESPONDERS AND HEALTH CARE PROVIDERS INFECTED OR OTHERWISE IMPACTED BY COVID-19 VIRUS
Generally a disease like COVID-19 is not covered under Florida Workers’ Compensation law regardless of what kind of work you do. The Florida Workers’ Compensation Act is extremely restrictive with regard to exposure claims, and legal standards related to occupational disease are enormously burdensome; some would argue the standard is unconstitutional. Fortunately, however, First Responders (including firefighters, law enforcement and corrections officers, paramedics and emergency medical technicians) have special statutory protections, specifically contained in Chapter 112, that ease the burden of proving that infection with the COVID-19 virus is a work-related medical condition. Additionally the Florida CFO has issued a directive providing that COVID-19 cases involving First Responders should be presumed contracted on the job. Here is what you need to know about the current legal rights of First Responders and health care providers infected or otherwise impacted by the COVID-19 virus.
1. MEDICAL CARE: Any First Responder or health care worker infected with the COVID-19 virus is legally entitled to full medical care without co-payment or out of pocket expense under the Workers’ Compensation Act. This is not a group health insurance responsibility unless there is a legitimate legal basis for denial of coverage. All reasonable and necessary medical must be provided for both the virus and any secondary condition that may hinder recovery from the illness.
2. PRESCRIPTIONS: Any First Responder or health care worker infected with the COVID-19 virus is legally entitled to all medication necessary to treat the condition, without cost or out of pocket expense, and has the absolute legal right to choose the pharmacy he or she desires to fill needed prescriptions.
3. LOST WAGES: Any First Responder or health care worker infected with the COVID-19 virus should be paid lost wages under the Workers’ Compensation Act and should not be forced to utilize sick, vacation or any type of banked leave time. This lost wage compensation is non-taxable and will continue through the duration of any disability related to the virus or secondary conditions that may result from the virus.
4. PERMANENT IMPAIRMENT BENEFITS: Any First Responder or health care worker infected with the COVID-19 virus may be entitled to the receipt of non-taxable permanent impairment benefits upon returning to work if there is any whole body impairment resulting from the disease.
While this is largely uncharted territory our firm has spent nearly thirty years on the cutting edge of health and safety issues impacting the health of First Responders. We are firmly rooted in the complexities of occupational disease in the First Responder community and the interplay between the multiple legal protections that exist in this area. Every First Responder and health care worker in the State of Florida should operate under the assumption that they will be fully covered, and receive all legal benefits in the event they contract the COVID-19 virus. Our office will remain open throughout this crisis and is here to answer any questions related to these complicated legal issues. As always we are honored with the opportunity to serve you and greatly appreciate your selfless sacrifice to our communities.