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COVID-19 and L&I Claims

L&I Claims are Either an Injury or an Occupational Disease.

Break your arm on the job and you have an L&I injury claim. Work in a mill, breath cedar dust, get asthma, and you have an L&I occupational disease. It makes a difference

COVID-19 is an Occupational Disease for Some Occupations

Covid-19 is an occupational disease for some occupations, but not others. The usual difficult proof requirements of occupational disease law apply to all workers, including those with Covid-19.

The result then, is that you can contract Covid-19 on the job, and you may or may not have a valid L&I claim. The occupational disease criteria are:

  • A physician must present an opinion that work conditions, on a more probable-than-not basis (a greater than 50% chance), are a cause of the disease or have aggravated or “lit up” a preexisting condition; AND
  • Objective medical findings support the diagnosis; AND
  • The disease must arise “naturally and proximately” out of employment.
  • Naturally — To arise “naturally” out of employment, a disease must be regarded as a natural consequence of distinctive conditions of the work process, including one or more of the following:
    • The disease is caused by distinctive conditions of the worker’s employment. The disease or disease-based disability does not arise out of employment if it is caused by conditions of everyday life or all employments in general; OR
    • The worker’s occupation exposed the worker to the likelihood of contracting the disease or the disease-based disability; OR
    • The disease is caused by continuous and specific activity required to perform the job.
  • Proximately — To arise “proximately” out of employment, “the cause must be proximate in the sense that there existed no intervening independent and sufficient cause for the disease, so that the disease would not have been contracted but for the [distinctive] condition existing in the…employment.”

Will COVID-19 be Allowed as a Work-Related Condition?

Yes, under certain circumstances. For example, claims from health care providers and first responders involving COVID-19 will likely be allowed. Covid-19 arises naturally and proximately out of their employment. Other claims from occupations that meet certain criteria for exposure, as indicated above, will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Where an employer requires working in close proximity, there arises an interesting question whether this unsafe work condition is actually a distinctive condition of employment.

The line between occupational disease allowance and denial is not bright. It will be interesting to see L&I’s response to these claims. It may be that if you are required to work with the public your claim will be looked upon more favorably than if you work in a closed office or from home. Meanwhile, if you contract COVID-19 on the job then file your claim.

The New Rule About Coronavirus

In March of 2020, the director of L&I indicated there would be additional coverage for first responders who get COVID – 19 . The additional coronavirus coverage is for quarantined health care workers and first responder’s only.  And then only while they are in quarantine by a public health official or physician. This is very narrow coverage. Said another way, this new rule does almost nothing. All the old rules are still in effect.

When Will a COVID-19 Claim Likely be Denied?

In many cases, exposure and/or contraction of COVID-19 is not considered to be an allowable, work-related condition.

When the contraction of COVID-19 is incidental to the workplace or common to all employment (such as an office worker who contracts the condition from a fellow employee), a claim for exposure to and contraction of the disease will likely be denied.

See the news release from Governor Jay Inslee from March 5, 2020:  Workers’ Compensation Coverage and COVID-19: Department Policy

Can I sue my employer if I contract COVID -19 at work?

If your Covid-19 claim is allowed you cannot sue your employer. He has immunity under RCW 51.24.020. The rare exception to this would be intentional injury.

If your Covid-19 claim is disallowed because it is not an occupational disease, then appeal the denial and if your injuries are serious enough that winning your claim is important, try to prove your occupational disease claim. Maybe you can successfully sue your employer, maybe not. Talk to a lawyer about this.

Can I sue my living facility or other organization if I contract COVID -19 there?

Yes. Get legal advice about how to proceed.

What to Do If A Family Member Dies from Occupational Coronavirus?

L&I needs to be notified. File a death benefits claim with L&I. These are good benefits. See Pensions for details.  Contact an L&I attorney. Don’t wait – there is a time deadline.

Want More L&I Information?

Center for Disease Control –

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services –


The World Health Organization –

Family Medical Leave – FMLA 

Sharpe Law Firm –Things You Need To Know About L&I Claims

Sharpe Law Firm – L&I Claims are Either an Injury or an Occupational Disease

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