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On May 25, Floridians received news that could be a sign that there is light at the end of the tunnel. The number of COVID-19 workers’ compensation claims has hit a low not seen in the Sunshine State since early in the pandemic.

In its monthly statement, the Florida Division of Workers’ Compensation reported 846 compensable COVID-19 workers’ compensation indemnity claims in April. This number is a decrease from the 1,258 filed by Floridians in March, adding to a decline in claims filed since the beginning of the pandemic. The highest number of claims was seen in July 2020, when 8,372 were filed. 

While the lower number may provide hope, both insurance administrators, and victims of COVID-19 who struggled to file workers’ compensation claims, will not soon forget the last 17 months.

Just over one year ago, Florida’s leaders in Tallahassee were directing Floridians on how to survive financially as the pandemic raged. Not only did they see a significant increase in the number of residents seeking unemployment benefits, but they also were forced to address unexpected questions when it came to workers’ compensation benefits. For example, who exactly is eligible for workers’ compensation when contracting the virus at work? And, if someone was sent home to work virtually and is injured, would that be considered a work injury?

Related: Will Florida’s Workers’ Comp Apply to Employees Working From Home?

Related: Florida Legal Options If You Contract COVID-19 at Work

In April 2020, Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis issued a directive that the division of risk management must give workers’ comp coverage to all state employees whose jobs require them to expose themselves to people who may be infected with COVID. Included in the group were first responders, child safety and corrections officers, National Guard members responding to the virus, and state-employed healthcare workers. But to the dismay of many of those infected, the directive said that state agencies could choose to opt out of this coverage, and workers’ comp claims by frontline workers were being denied.

Workers’ Comp Claims During the Pandemic

Despite some workers struggling to get compensated for COVID-related worker’s comp claims, reports show that the pandemic didn’t seem to affect workers’ compensation claims and treatments negatively.

Analysts for the Workers’ Compensation Research Institute (WCRI) recently conducted a study analyzing 27 states and how they fared during the pandemic. They compared data from the first two quarters of 2020 to the same time frame in 2019.  

The states in the WCRI study were Arkansas, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, North Carolina, New Jersey, New Mexico, Nevada, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin.

When it came to the speed of the workers’ comp claim process, generally speaking, during the pandemic, workers across the country who needed to file a workers’ compensation claim did not see delays in receiving medical access. 

The research showed that the number of days from when the worker received the injury to treatment in 2020 (under workers’ comp) was largely unaffected for both COVID and non-COVID medical claims. Neither was the number of medical visits per claim. 

There were no more added delays for evaluation and management services, emergency room services, physical therapy, or surgery during the pandemic. The report said that this was true “…whether the claims originated in the first half of 2020 or were existing claims carried over from 2018 and 2019. Ironically, there was also a slight improvement in speed to surgery for 2019 claims carried into 2020.”

Many States Saw a Decrease in Workers’ Comp Claims

The WCRI data also showed that as the pandemic grew in force, with thousands of workers laid off across the country and others were sent home to work remotely, non-covid workers’ compensation claims dropped. At the same time, however, workers’ compensation claims involving COVID-19 rose across the country.

This means statistically speaking that for non-covid claims, from the second quarter of 2019 to the second quarter of 2020, most states saw about a 30 percent drop in workers’ compensation claims. Massachusetts saw the most with a 50 percent drop and seven states with more than a 40 percent drop, including New Jersey, Michigan, Connecticut, Louisiana, Illinois, Florida and Pennsylvania. Minor drops of 20 percent occurred in Kansas, 21 percent in Arkansas, and 25 percent in Tennessee and Arizona.

The data also confirms that the states with the highest number of COVID-19 claims were also the states experiencing the highest number of COVID cases during that time frame. Massachusetts also led this category overall, with 42 percent of all worker’s compensation cases being COVID-19 related. Other states with high COVID-19 claims were New Jersey at 34 percent and Connecticut with 23 percent.  

States with the lowest percentages of COVID claims among their workers’ compensation claims included South Carolina at one percent, Kansas at two percent, and Texas, Arkansas and Nevada at three percent.

Frontline Workers Lead the COVID-19 Claims

As expected, healthcare workers have filed the most COVID-19 related workers’ compensation claims. In the first half of 2020, more than 60 percent of COVID-19 claims were made by workers from assisted living facilities, hospitals and physician and dental offices. 

When WCRI looked at individual states, the most claims submitted by healthcare workers were again found in Massachusetts, with a high of 75 percent. New Jersey came in second with 68 percent. The lowest percentage was found in South Carolina with eight percent.

Where Does Florida Stand with COVID-19 Workers’ Compensation Cases?

In going back to the Florida Division of Workers’ Compensation report, in Florida, the total number of indemnity claims related to COVID-19 filed stands at 42,716, which have cost Florida about $89-million. The breakdown for that figure includes employers and insurers paying $39-million in closed COVID-19 claims and almost $50-million for claims that are still open as of April 30.

In comparison, on April 30, 2020, the total number of indemnity claims filed in Florida was 4,834, with a cost of $13-million. Employers and insurers had paid about $7-million in closed claims and nearly $6-million for still open claims.

If you have contracted COVID-19 while working or suffered a work injury during the pandemic and need guidance with a workers’ compensation claim, consulting an experienced workers’ comp attorney can make the process easier and less stressful. Contact the Scott R. Marshall Law Firm online or at (727) 772-5900 for more information or a free consultation.

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