W. Millwork v. Indus. Comm’n of Ariz. – 9/21/2023

October 3, 2023

Arizona Court of Appeals Division One holds that death or injury from COVID-19 is compensable where the statutory requirements for workers’ compensation are met.

The spouse of an employee who died of COVID-19 filed a workers’ compensation claim, alleging that her spouse contracted the illness in the workplace. The ALJ found in the spouse’s favor, determining that the employee contracted COVID-19 in the course and scope of his employment, and that his illness and death were related to his employment to a reasonable degree of medical probability.  The employer sought special action review.

The Court of Appeals assessed workers’ compensation law, A.R.S. § 23-1021, under which compensation can be obtained for “personal injury by accident arising out of and in the course of employment” or “an occupational disease” due to causes particular to the trade, but “not the ordinary diseases to which the general public is exposed.” The court concluded that the employee’s COVID-19 infection was not an occupational disease. Rather, the disease constituted an “accident” within the terms of the Workmen’s Compensation Act.

The court further rejected the employer’s argument that, because it is essentially everywhere, COVID-19 is not legally compensable. The court explained that, unlike Valley fever, whose source of transmission is impossible to establish, COVID-19 is capable of being traced from person to person. Therefore, the court held that when the evidence supports that COVID-19 was actually contracted at a claimant’s place of employment during work hours while on duty, and the other statutory requirements are met, COVID-19 should not be treated differently than any other compensable communicable disease.

Finally, the court analyzed whether the employee’s death from COVID-19 arose out of his employment. It held that the employee’s death did arise out of his employment, and was a “mixed risk” case in which a personal cause, preexisting conditions and comorbidity, and an employment cause combined to produce the harm.

Judge Catlett authored the opinion, which Judges McMurdie and Brown joined.

Posted by: BriAnne Illich Meeds