Western Millwork v. Industrial Comm'n, No. 1CA-IC 22-0038 (App. Div. I, September 21, 2023) (J. Catlett) https://www.azcourts.gov/Portals/0/OpinionFiles/Div1/2023/IC%2022-0038%20Zerby.pdf
DEATH OR INJURY FROM COVID-19 TRACEABLE TO INTERACTIONS WITH AN INFECTED COWORKER WHILE ON DUTY IS COMPENSABLE UNDER ARIZONA'S WORKERS' COMPENSATION LAWS
Decedent's wife brought this workers' compensation claim alleging her husband died from COVID-19 contracted from a coworker while at work. The compensation carrier denied the claim and wife requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge [ALJ]. The ALJ found in wife's favor concluding her husband had contracted COVID “in the course and scope of his employment” which led to his death. The employer then sought this special action review by the Arizona Court of Appeals which affirmed the award of compensation to wife.
Ariz. Const. art. 18, § 8 requires Arizona enact and administer a workers compensation system which Arizona does pursuant to A.R.S. § 23-1021. This statute, “entitles qualifying employees to compensation ‘for loss sustained on the account of . . . injury or death' when injured or killed ‘by accident arising out of and in the course of his employment.'” “Occupational diseases”—diseases peculiar to a particular trade—are also covered. Certain communicable diseases like hepatitis C and AIDs are covered by the statute.
COVID-19 is not an occupational disease and is not specifically covered by statute, but where as here, it is contracted in the workplace from a coworker it is a compensable “accident arising out of and in the course of employment.”
While Valley Fever is not a compensable disease, because it is everywhere—spores floating in the air—COVID is different in that it can be contracted person to person.
With person-to-person tracing possible, a workers' compensation
claimant will occasionally be able to trace exposure to COVID-19
to the workplace. 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, we see no reason to treat COVID-19 differently than any
other compensable communicable disease.