VERMONT CIVIL STATUTES OF LIMITATIONS TEMPORARILY SUSPENDED: Effective April 28, 2020, the Vermont legislature tolled all Vermont civil action statutes of limitation or statutes of repose until 60 days after the Governor ends the state of emergency for Covid 19.
The Department of Labor (DOL) has issued two orders in response to the COVID-19 crisis that limits the ability of insurance carriers to deny the payment of benefits and to discontinue benefits. The pandemic has complicated the workers’ compensation process due to the difficulty facing injured workers in performing job searches and attending medical appointments. DOL recommends the use of access to telemedicine and DFR has directed insurers to use and cover telemedicine. Additionally, work search requirements have been waived at this time.
What is still unclear is the coverage of the COVID-19 illnesses under workers’ compensation. If the employee contracts COVID-19 and tells the employer that they believe that they contracted it on site, the employer should file a worker's compensation claim within 72-hours with their insurer as this is a reportable incident. The employee will need to show that they contracted it from work when an insurance adjuster does contact tracing. This process will take into account how well the employer followed Vermont Department of Health and CDC guidelines and take into account the potential risk doctrine.
This week, the Vermont legislature is looking at a proposal to create a presumption that an “essential employee” who contracts COVID-19 is eligible for workers’ compensation. The presumption could be rebutted if the employer “shows the employment was not a direct cause of the disease.”
With the closure of businesses in Vermont due to Covid 19, the current workers’ compensation rate employers pay should change. The Department of Financial Regulations (DFR) will be finalizing an order soon which should result in a decrease in worker's compensation rates reflective of a decrease in risk for employees working from home.
The committee will be meeting on April 17th to consider the proposal and to consider codifying the actions taken by DOL and DFR around prohibiting discontinuation of benefits until the state of emergency is lifted.
Question: If you get coronavirus at work, can you get worker's compensation benefits if you work in Vermont?
Answer: Employees who get Covid-19 at work may be able to get worker's compensation coverage but compensability will be on a case-by-case basis.
You should immediately report your illness to your employer and ask to make a worker's compensation claim if you were exposed at work while working. You should call a Vermont worker's compensation lawyer to ask whether you are entitled to worker's compensation benefits.
In Vermont, occupational diseases can be work injuries covered by worker's compensation if the disease results from conditions characteristic of and particular to your job, if the employee is not ordinarily exposed to the disease outside of employment, and if the disease arises out of and in the course of employment. A Vermont employee must prove that he or she contracted Covid-19 at work, or while doing a work related activity, in order for it to be covered by worker's compensation.
Vermont law has further protections for first responders. Under 21 V.S.A. Section 601 (11)(H)(i), firefighters and members of a rescue or an ambulance squads who get an infectious disease after a documented occupational exposure in the line of duty shall be presumed to be compensable, unless it is shown by a preponderance of the evidence that the disease was caused by nonservice-connected risk factors or nonservice-connected exposure. This means that first responders who get Covid-19 due to exposure from a sick person while working likely have a presumptive compensable worker's compensation claim unless there is proof they contracted the coronavirus from a non-work related exposure.
If you have questions or believe that you contracted Covid-19 at work, I offer free phone consultations and can be reached at (802)764-3020 Extension 1.
Please wash your hands, stay home and stay healthy!
What are the first things to do if you get hurt at work in Burlington, Williston, Montpelier, Saint Albans -- or any town in Vermont?
Here are four important things to do after a workplace injury:
1. Report the work injury to a supervisor or boss as soon as possible so that they can report the work injury to the Vermont Department of Labor. Vermont law says every employer must report a work injury within 72 hours to the Vermont Department of Labor by filing a "First Report of Injury" form.
2. Get medical care for the injury and take care of your injury!
3. If you are unable to work due to the work injury, get your doctor to write a note saying that your cannot work, and include in the doctor note how long you are unable to work due to the work injury. Give a copy of this out of work note to your employer and keep a copy for yourself.
4. Payment of wage or "TTD" benefits (Temporary Total Disability benefits): If you are out of work due to a work injury for 3 days or more, the employer's worker's compensation insurance company will owe you TTD benefits which are temporary wage replacement payments paid by the insurance company while you are unable to work from a work injury.
The employer or insurance company shall file a Wage Statement (Form 25) and a Certificate of Dependency and Concurrent Employment Form (Form 10). The amount of TTD benefits you are entitled is determined by looking at the wages you earned before your work injury as reported on the Wage Statement that your employer fills in and based on the number of children you have. Be sure that the wage statement includes all your wages, bonuses, over-time and compensation so you can get the correct amount of TTD benefits.
RECENT TRAGEDY HIGHLIGHTS VERMONT'S NEED TO INCREASE CAR INSURANCE LIABILITY MINIMUMS SO THEY ARE HIGH ENOUGH TO COVER SERIOUS INJURIES FROM CAR CRASHES
A 13 year old girl was recently paralyzed in a car crash on Interstate 89 in Saint Albans, Vermont. The man who caused this crash only has car insurance limits of $25,000.00 which will not pay for the medical bills. This type of minimal insurance coverage should not be allowed!
It happened because Vermont only requires a minimum of $25,000.00 of car insurance. This small car insurance limit does not cover many injuries caused by car crashes; and it is woefully inadequate for serious personal injuries like those suffered by this 8th grade girl.
Vermont needs to pass a new law that requires that drivers have at least $100,000.00 of coverage so that injured Vermonters can have their medical bills and wage loss covered when they are injured in car crashes. The current law is outdated (from the 1900s). The minimum limit should be raised to show that the State of Vermont wants to help victims of car crashes get enough money to get the treatment they need.
Larger car insurance liability limits protect all of us and will make it so that the taxpayers do not end up paying for injuries that should be covered by auto insurance companies. Increasing your liability limits to $100,000 will cost a little more per year, but will insure that if you hurt someone that you pay for their recovery.
I urge you to talk to your representatives and consider signing the Change.org petition started by Angie Farr which urges changes to Vermont's car insurance liability limits. I will be talking to legislators about this issue in the upcoming weeks and I hope you will do the same.
Most of my clients tell me during our early conversations that they have "full coverage." Normally, this is not true. It is heart breaking to have to tell them that there is not enough car insurance coverage to pay for their injuries caused by a car crash. It is so important to make sure that you understand your coverage limits and have priced the cost to have car insurance limits that protect yourself and your loved ones in case they are injured in a car crash. This leads to my four tips for maximizing value from your car insurance policy:
1. Get Sufficient Coverage to Protect Yourself. Make sure you get enough liability coverage and underinsured motorist coverage to protect yourself and your family. I recommend at least $100,000.00/$300,000.00 of coverage which means $100,000.00 of coverage for bodily injury per person and $300,000.00 coverage per accident.
Vermont law requires only $25,000.00 of coverage per person. This is often not enough to cover real bodily injuries. Make sure your uninsured and underinsured motorist limits are at least $100,000.00. This covers you and the people in your home if they get hit by an uninsured driver or a driver with minimal coverage limits.
2. Shop Often for Car Insurance. Check out several different car insurance companies every 2 years. This will ensure that you are getting charged the best rate and have the coverage you need if your driving situation changed. We changed auto insurance companies when our daughter turned 15 to take advantage of lower rates for teen drivers. This was a huge savings.
3. Think about Raising Collision and Comprehensive Deductibles. Collision insurance covers damage to your car caused by a crash, regardless of who is at fault. Comprehensive insurance covers theft or damage to your car. If you raise your deductible, you will pay more if something happens to damage your car, but your premium will be lower and you will save money every year that you do not make a claim.
4. Check the Ratings. Consumer Reports and other organizations provide ratings of overall satisfaction with car insurance companies. You want to get a car insurance company that is affordable and that provides fast and reliable customer service if you need to make a claim.
This Saturday, I’m trading in my suit and briefcase for a sweatshirt, jeans, and hand tools. Along with a team of fellow VTAJ members from across the state, we’re fanning out across Rutland with the Red Cross to install hundreds of free smoke alarms.
I suspect this won’t surprise anyone but smoke alarms save lives. But here in Vermont people still die every year in house fires because they don’t have one. Worse yet is dealing with a death because someone forgets to check the batteries if they do have one.
We’re teaming up with the Red Cross to “Sound the Alarm” because we live here, too. The good news is that in the last fifteen years the number of statewide deaths have dropped because of fire safety education campaigns and the mandated use of smoke alarms. Since 2000 the number of Vermont fire deaths have dropped to less than ten most years.
But imagine if it was your spouse or child who dies in a fire because there was no smoke alarm. As trial attorneys, we see the pain Vermonters face every day when someone is hurt because another’s carelessness caused an accident. An accident, that in this case, is virtually preventable if you have a working smoke detector.
That’s why we want to help. As a group, we’ll be going door-to-door installing detectors. We’ll also have free replacement batteries. There is no catch. There is no sales pitch. We live here, too. We want to eliminate fire deaths and we’re proud to be partnering with the Red Cross.
Rose Law is sponsoring Bike Light Giveaway and will be handing out bike lights at AD Lawton School in Essex Junction on Friday, May 12th.
Bike Smart: Be Seen! Free Bicycle Light Giveaway for Vermont Kids on May 12 &13. It's biking weather again and more kids are biking on our streets and around our neighborhoods. Using bike lights is an important way to help keep kids safe! On May 12 and 13, lawyers from the Vermont Association for Justice will be giving away bicycle headlights and tail lights to hundreds of Vermont kids.
For press release, click here.
In the Boston Globe last week, Hiawatha Bray wrote a fascinating article detailing one of the toughest programming challenges for self-driving cars: teaching them to turn left safely. Left turns are challenging because they involve crossing lanes of oncoming traffic while interpreting psychology and predicting other humans' behavior. You have to know how to read the signals to determine when it is safe to make the left turn in many different conditions.
Driverless cars do not know how to read humans and anticipate what human drivers will do. Humans know as they enter an intersection to begin to look for clues about what the other human drivers are doing, or likely to do so we can turn safely. Self-driving cars aren't this smart (yet) as they cannot read body language. At some point, self-driving cars will begin to communicate with each other at intersections so they can safely turn left.
Distracted Driving is an epidemic. It has resulted in increased car crash fatalities since 2014 and the upward trend of increased fatalities is likely to continue.
We are tied to our phones. Drivers are constantly making choices while driving to answer calls, text, or use voice activation to send texts or operate music, GPS and/or navigation systems.
Using hands-free modes of operation do not eliminate the risks of distracted driving. Studies show that going from hand-held to hands-free does not eliminate the mental demand on the driver of the car. While we believe we are good multi-taskers, most people cannot do two mentally demanding tasks perfectly at the same time. This means drivers' attention is pulled off driving and onto operating a hands free device which increases the likelihood of car accidents and injuries.
Distracted driving accidents are fully preventable. Using your phone or hand held device is visually distracting and could kill you or another person on the road.
Attorney based in Essex, VT, specializing in helping clients reclaim their lives