Nebraska and COVID-19
March 30, 2020
On behalf of our entire team, we hope that you are doing as well as possible during this complicated time. We have prepared the following update for your reference as it pertains to Nebraska court operations, and potential claims related to COVID-19.
- Are the Court’s Open?
Nebraska State Courts are Open. Some local County and District Courts have issued Orders continuing civil matters for up to 30 days, allowing most hearings to occur by telephone or videoconference, or restricting the number people in the courtrooms.
For all practical purposes, Nebraska workers’ compensation cases are not likely to be affected by any COVID-19 related shutdowns, with the exception of in-person depositions and trials. We continue to have regularly scheduled telephonic hearings and plan to schedule video depositions when appropriate. We continue to have settlements approved on the regular 3-5 week timeline.
- Have state or local authorities issued any executive Orders?
None specific to workers’ compensation.
The Governor has issued Orders regarding: 1) weight limitations and driver hour restrictions for those hauling food supplies, or essential equipment; 2) waiver of requirements for unemployment and time limitations on benefits; 3) employer’s right and obligations for payment of unemployment and appeal of benefit determination; have been waived or relaxed; and 4) extension of the he deadline for filing Nebraska State Income Tax until July 15, 2020.
- What is the potential for workers’ compensation claims related to COVID-19 exposure?
COVID-19 exposure may be a compensable injury as an occupational disease, which is defined by Neb. Rev. Stat. §48-151 as “a disease which is due to causes or conditions which are characteristic of and peculiar to a particular trade, occupation, process, or employment and excludes all ordinary diseases of life to which the general public is exposed.”.
In the case of occupational disease, an employee’s COVID-19 infection would be compensable only if the employee shows, via competent medical evidence, that the exposure to the virus was a unique condition of their employment.
Most employees will not be able to prove, more likely than not, that their exposure was specific to work. Almost certainly, the claim of a healthcare worker treating infected patients would be a compensable exposure. However, the distinction gets much greyer for people such as retail workers, warehouse employees, delivery drivers and grocery store clerks.
Plaintiff’s attorneys in Nebraska are already posting information about claiming workers’ compensation benefits for COVID-19 exposure, so we should certainly expect some of those claims to eventually be brought. The main focus should be the medical causation opinion, or lack thereof, from any examining doctor.
- What effect might employer lay-off’s have on current claims?
In Nebraska, temporary total disability benefits are paid when an injured employee is either: 1) unable to work while recovering from their injury; or 2) off of work because the employer cannot accommodate temporary work restrictions.
The most likely scenario is that an employer has been accommodating light-duty work, so the Plaintiff is being paid TPD benefits. If, due to the economic effects of COVID-19, an employer no longer has light duty work available to an injured employee, we believe the full amount of TTD is owed. Similarly, if medical treatment or evaluation is delayed due to events out of the Plaintiff’s control, the Court would not be willing to use its power to limit or suspend benefits.
Our team is fully operational and we are here to provide you with any support, advice, and/or service that may be helpful during this complicated time. This situation is rapidly changing, so please do not hesitate to reach out to one of our team members if you have any questions, comments or concerns, and we will be sure to provide you with a prompt response.
Please stay safe and healthy.