What does 1918 have to do with Ebola and work comp in 2014? Unfortunately a great deal. In 1918, the final year of World War I, the world saw a pandemic of influenza with the most deaths of any single event in world history – estimated to be 50,000,000 world wide, with 800,000+ in the United States in one year.
The pandemic came in two waves six months apart. The first was mild but the second was the killer. The virus had quickly mutated.
Work comp in NY was four years old in 1918 but the influenza event doesn’t seem to have received a single mention in the NY work comp cases. Perhaps that is due to the fact that communicable diseases were not yet covered under a law that was intended for heavy, dangerous work and covered only accidents, not diseases.
How Would An Ebola Pandemic Affect Work Comp?
What would be the effects of a pandemic be on work comp in the US? Certainly they will not be the same as they were in 1918. If we use the response to 9/11 as a guide, as many Ebola incidents as possible will be covered under work comp laws. The deaths on 9/11 were about 3000. The final number of occupational disease claims for first responders will surely be many multiples of the first day deaths.
It is difficult to imagine that work comp could resist expansion to cover Ebola when the largest available insurance program, in terms of percentage of workers covered, is work comp.
The effects of a pandemic are difficult to imagine in a nation that has not experienced one in more than three generations. Just one statistic shows what a pandemic can do. In 1919 the average life expectancy in the US had been lowered by 12 YEARS, largely due to infants under 1 year of age being the hardest hit.
The effects of the pandemic hit the most remote populations on earth, even in the high arctic. The death rates were the lowest in nations that had imposed the strictest barriers to influx of possibly infected persons (Japan had imposed a virtual ban on incoming ships).
Liberal Interpretation of Causal Relationship to Work Comp Claims
This would be an event unlike any other ever faced by a comp system, even though it has little to do with health risks created by hazards of a workplace. The impact will be enhanced by the liberal interpretation of causal relationship given to comp claims, a tradition started in the early years when only workplace trauma was covered.
With any great disaster, hindsight clearly locates the deficiences in responses to it. Unfortunately, for a system as litigation driven as work comp that can only mean a degradation of efficiency in the system overall.
Author: Attorney Theodore Ronca is a practicing lawyer from Aquebogue, NY. He is a frequent writer and speaker, and has represented employers in the areas of workers’ compensation, Social Security disability, employee disability plans and subrogation for over 30 years. Attorney Ronca can be reached at 631-722-2100. email@example.com
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