The COVID-19 crisis has significantly impacted the lives of almost every American. Hundreds of thousands of Americans have been infected with the virus, and tens of thousands have died. To stop to rapid spread of the virus, governors across the country have shut down all activity except that which has been deemed “essential.” However, essential workers are still expected – and often required – to carry out their job functions. Not only are essential workers being exposed to COVID-19, but many essential jobs have been made more dangerous by the fact that supporting positions have been deemed non-essential.
At Briskman Briskman & Greenberg, we represent Illinois essential employees who have been injured on the job. Our dedicated team of workplace injury lawyers has extensive experience handling all types of on-the-job accidents, including occupational illnesses. The coronavirus pandemic presents an unprecedented time for our nation, and in times like these, regular people often get overlooked. At Briskman Briskman & Greenberg, we proudly stand up for the rights of those who were injured after being required to work during these dangerous times.
- The first case of COVID-19 was discovered on January 19, 2020, in Snohomish County, Washington.
- The second case of COVID-19 was discovered on January 24, 2020, in Chicago.
- It was in Chicago where the first infant died of COVID-19 related symptoms.
- In Illinois, COVID-19 disproportionality affects minorities.
- Below is a breakdown by race of those infected with COVID-19:
- White – 23.3 percent
- Black – 21.9 percent
- Unknown – 26.4 percent
- Hispanic -20.8 percent
- Asian – 3.4 percent
- However, the racial composition of Illinois is much different:
- White – 61 percent
- Black – 14.6 percent
- Unknown – 30.3 percent
- Hispanic -17.4 percent
- Asian – 5.9 percent
- The situation is even more stark when looking at COVID-related deaths:
- White – 41.3 percent
- Black – 36.3 percent
- Unknown/Other – 5.08 percent
- Hispanic – 12.9 percent
- Asian – 4.19 percent
- Below is a breakdown by race of those infected with COVID-19:
- As of April 28, 2020, there have been 242,189 COVID-19 tests performed across Illinois.
- The age breakdown for those infected with COVID-19 in Illinois is as follows, based on 48,102 total cases:
- Under 20 – 1,540 or 3.2 percent of total cases in Illinois
- Ages 20 to 29 – 6,356 or 13.2 percent of total cases in Illinois
- Ages 30 to 39 – 7,495 or 15.6 percent of total cases in Illinois
- Ages 40 to 49 – 8,685 or 18.1 percent of total cases in Illinois
- Ages 50 to 59 – 9,303 or 19.3 percent of total cases in Illinois
- Ages 60 to 69 – 6,827 or 14.2 percent of total cases in Illinois
- Ages 70 to 79 – 4,021 or 8.4 percent of total cases in Illinois
- Ages 80 and above – 3,852 or 8 percent of total cases in Illinois
- The age breakdown for those who died of complications related to COVID-19 in Illinois is as follows, based on 2,125 total deaths:
- Under 20 – 3 or 0.14 percent of those who died from COVID-19 in Illinois
- Ages 20 to 29 – 12 or 0.56 percent of those who died from COVID-19 in Illinois
- Ages 30 to 39 – 35 or 1.6 percent of those who died from COVID-19 in Illinois
- Ages 40 to 49 – 79 or 3.7 percent of those who died from COVID-19 in Illinois
- Ages 50 to 59 – 187 or 8.8 percent of those who died from COVID-19 in Illinois
- Ages 60 to 69 – 371 or 17.4 percent of those who died from COVID-19 in Illinois
- Ages 70 to 79 – 556 or 26.2 percent of those who died from COVID-19 in Illinois
- Ages 80 and above – 882 or 41.5 percent of those who died from COVID-19 in Illinois
- Across the United States, there are between 49 to 62 million essential workers, representing between 34 to 43 percent of the total workforce.
- Essential workers spend, on average, 55 percent of their time in close proximity with others.
- There are over 1,000,000 essential workers in Chicago.
- Many essential workers earn less than the national average of $18.58 per hour.
- 12 percent of essential workers do not have health insurance
What is COVID-19?
COVID-19, or the novel coronavirus, is an airborne infectious disease. Primarily, the disease is spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes. COVID-19 can also spread when someone touches an infected surface and then touches their eyes, nose or mouth.
Symptoms of the disease are similar to the flu, and include a dry cough, low-grade fever and difficulty breathing. Many who contract the novel coronavirus will recover. However, they may need to be hospitalized. The disease presents an increased risk for those over 60 years of age as well as individuals with certain pre-existing health conditions, including:
- Serious heart conditions
- Chronic lung conditions
- Liver disease
- Kidney disease
Those who are immunocompromised are also at risk of suffering severe illness if they become infected.
The World Health Organization recommends that, to combat the spread of the disease, everyone:
- Wash their hands regularly for at least 20 seconds with liquid soap and water;
- Cover their nose and mouth with a disposable tissue when coughing or sneezing;
- Avoid close contact (within six feet) of those who may have the virus; and
- Stay at home and self-isolate if they are feeling unwell
Weeks ago, states across the nation began implementing these procedures. However, even with these precautions, the virus has still spread. In large part, this is because many businesses and government operations have remained open during the pandemic. While certain essential businesses and government offices must remain open to ensure the orderly function of society, problems occur when these organizations fail to take additional precautions to reduce the spread of the virus.
Illinois Essential Workers Are Being Exposed to Coronavirus
Since the beginning of the year, the COVID-19 has spread like wildfire across the globe. Originating in the Wuhan region of China in late 2019, the virus quickly reached both coasts of the United States and immediately began working its way inland. While the second case of COVID-19 was diagnoses in Chicago on January 24, it was not until much later that the virus fully infiltrated the state. On March 20, Governor Pritzker issued an order, requiring schools and most business and government offices to remain closed. The order initially extended through April 7, 2020. However, on April 1, 2020, the Governor extended the emergency order until April 30.
The Governor’s order requires everyone stay at home unless leaving for an “essential activity.” Among the essential activities listed in the Governor’s order was “to perform work providing essential products and services at Essential Businesses or Operations or to otherwise carry out activities specifically permitted” by the order.
The Governor’s order outlines which jobs are considered essential, including those relating to:
- Healthcare and public health operations
- Human services operations
- Essential infrastructure
- Essential government functions
Certainly, there is some gray area in terms of what specific jobs fall into each of these categories. And the Governor’s order provides some guidance, listing the following examples, among others:
- Food production, distribution and sales;
- Building management and maintenance
- First responders
- Emergency personnel
- Law enforcement
- Grocery stores
- Charitable and social services
- Banks and financial institutions
- Hardware stores
- Critical trades, such as plumbers, electricians, exterminators and janitorial staff
- Mail and shipping
- Educational institutions
- Restaurants (for consumption off-premises)
- Home-based care
- Residential facilities and shelters
- Hotels and motels
- Funeral services
Those employees whose job fits into one of the above categories can be required by their employer to come to work, despite potentially dangerous conditions. Employers that are deemed essential and remain open during the pandemic have a crucial responsibility to their employees, customers and society as a whole. Indeed, studies have shown that essential workers, on average, spend over half their time in close proximity to others.
The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity recommend that essential employers take certain precautions, including:
- Encouraging telecommuting, when feasible;
- Considering alternative work schedules to reduce employee overlap;
- Take steps to ensure social-distancing protocol can safely be followed, including:
- Using tape or signage, designated six-foot areas such that employees and customers can maintain the appropriate distance
- Provide hand sanitizer for customers and employees
- Implement separate operating hours for older customers as well as those with pre-existing conditions
- Clearly posting hours online to prevent unnecessary travel
Employers who fail to take these recommendations seriously put employees at a heightened – an unnecessary – risk of contracting COVID-19. Employees who have contracted COVID-19 should reach out to one of the dedicated Chicago personal injury lawyers at Briskman Briskman & Goldberg for immediate assistance. Our team of Illinois workplace injury lawyers are ready to meet with employees over the phone or through video chat to discuss their cases. We have over 30 years of experience advocating on behalf of injured employees, and are prepared to address the unique challenges that COVID-19 work injury cases will present.
Many Essential Workers Also Face an Increased Risk of Non-COVID Injury
Employees who must work during the COVID-19 pandemic face an increased risk of being injured on the job. The Governor’s orders for all non-essential employees to stay at home has resulted in many supporting positions being temporarily eliminated or reduced. Thus, essential workers may be put in the position of doing more work with less help and less protection. For example, even essential janitorial staff may be reduced in an attempt to prevent employee overlap. However, in doing so, facilities may not be inspected or cleaned as often, increasing the chances of a workplace slip-and-fall accident. Other employees are being asked to work long hours to make up for increased demand, placing additional stress on already overburdened workers. This, too, can lead to an increased risk of injury.
Employer Liability for Chicago Workplace Accidents
Employees who are injured on the job can typically pursue one of two types of claims. The first is a workers’ compensation claim. The Illinois workers’ compensation program provides a no-fault process for employees to obtain benefits after an on-the-job accident. The workers’ compensation process is faster than filing a personal injury case, but limits the available benefits to medical expenses and lost wages. Thus, injured employees cannot obtain compensation for their pain and suffering through a workers’ compensation claim.
The second type of claim an injured worker may pursue is an Illinois personal injury claim. For the most part, there are no limits on the type or amount of damages that can be awarded in a personal injury claim. However, to succeed in a personal injury case, an injured worker must be able to establish that the named defendant was negligent, and that the defendant’s negligence resulted in the worker’s injuries.
Perhaps the most difficult aspect of a Chicago personal injury case based on a workplace injury is overcoming the exclusive-remedy provision of the workers’ compensation act. Typically, when an employee is injured on the job, their sole remedy against their employer is a workers’ compensation claim. This means that, absent an exception, someone who is injured on the job can file for workers’ compensation, but cannot pursue a personal injury case against their employer. However, this provision does not preclude an employee from pursuing a personal injury case against a third party. Similarly, the sole remedy provision of the workers’ compensation act does not apply if the worker’s injury was the result of an employers’ willful or intentional actions.
Given the historic magnitude of the COVID-19 crisis, courts have not previously weighed in on what constitutes willful conduct in this type of situation. However, it could certainly be argued that an employer who understands the risks presented by the coronavirus and fails to take the necessary steps to protect employees acted willfully.
Contact an Experienced Chicago Workplace Accident Law Firm
If you or someone you care about has recently been diagnosed with COVID-19 or suffered any type of workplace injury, the dedicated Illinois personal injury lawyers at Briskman Briskman & Greenberg can help. Our attorneys represent injured employees and their families in personal injury and workers’ compensation claims. Our firm has over 30 years of experience advocating on behalf of Chicago workers, and we know what it takes to succeed on our clients’ behalf. From the moment you invite us to work on your case, we diligently investigate your claim, seeking to uncover all potentially liable parties and theories of liability. All cases are handled on a contingency basis, which means that we will only accept payment if we are successful in getting compensation for you or your family. We are here for you and your family during this difficult time, and while our physical offices remain closed, we are working remotely and can arrange to discuss your case over the phone or through video chat. To learn more, call 1-877-595-4878 to schedule a free consultation today.