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Justice mallet and blank document with Covid-19 red stamp

The modern workplace may never be the same as it was before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many employers are giving their workers options to work from home permanently; healthcare workers and first responders continue to endure a heightened exposure to a virus that has killed over half a million Americans to date. Workers’ compensation laws, too, have undergone a lot of changes. 

In April 2020, the infant days of the virus, Florida’s State Fire Marshall and CFO directed the state’s Division of Risk Management to provide workers’ comp coverage to every state employee who regularly comes into contact with COVID-19. Still, a loophole in the directive letting state agencies choose to opt-out has resulted in large numbers of routine denials of claims by workers who caught the virus or even died from it. 

On March 5, the Florida House of Representatives passed two pieces of COVID-19 legislation that will make it even harder for claimants to win their cases. The HB 7 bill, sponsored by Rep. Lawrence McClure R-Dover, creates “shield laws” designed to protect businesses from lawsuits related to the virus. Attorneys who side with shield laws argue that even if the suits are hard for workers to win, the legal costs required by the business could bankrupt those already struggling, especially small businesses. 

Republicans, who voted 83 to 31 Democrats, claim the bill as imperative to improving Florida’s economy by putting people back to work. Most Democrats say it acts as blanket protection for businesses and makes an already-difficult claim nearly impossible to win for innocent victims. They tried to provide special protections for front-line workers and prevent employers from unfairly retaliating against COVID-positive workers, but their amendments were summarily shut down.

The new bill requires plaintiffs to get affidavits from their doctors stating their COVID infections resulted from the employer’s gross negligence before they can file a suit. Opponents of the bill say that’s impossible to do. Even if a suit did get before a judge, the judges could dismiss it if they believe the employer made a “good faith effort” to comply with current guidelines. A similar Senate bill is ongoing. In addition, other bills are specifically designed to shield even healthcare-related businesses from liability. 

Related: Does Workers’ Compensation Cover Covid-19?

So, this means that it may be incredibly difficult for those who contract COVID-19 at work to gain rightful damages. Workers’ compensation won’t cover them, and litigation is full of roadblocks – few if any cases have even made it far enough to determine how judges will rule. Non-traditional employees, like gig workers, don’t even qualify for workers’ compensation in the first place.

Any chance of getting past these barriers lies with a competent legal team. A recent successful case in favor of the plaintiff demonstrates how exceptions can be made.

Gerardo Gutierrez, 70, worked at a Publix deli in Miami beach. He died in April 2020 after working together with a coworker who had tested positive for the virus. According to his estate, Publix had been ordering employees not to wear masks in order to avoid scaring customers. Publix argued that Gutierrez’s estate should have gone through the regular workers’ compensation channels, but because Publix’s actions allegedly knowingly put him at risk and there was no help available from workers’ compensation, their motion to dismiss was denied by Judge Carlos Lopez on February 5. 

If you or a loved one contracted COVID-19 at work and suffered injury or death because of it, it’s clear that the only chance of winning your case will come with aggressive, experienced representation. The Scott R. Marshall law firm has over 20 years of experience specifically in workers’ compensation injury law. His team will take the time to get to know you and your case before swiftly pursuing its success. Call us at 727-772-5900 or contact us online for more information.

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