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Liability for the Spread of Infectious Diseases in the Workplace

The coronavirus has raised awareness of the risks of spreading infectious diseases in the workplace, but this is not a new problem. Although disease can be transmitted in nearly any work environment, research has generally focused on certain high-risk industries and occupations such as healthcare, laboratory staff, animal workers, and public servants whose work environments tend to pose high risks. These workplaces are typically subject to strict safety regulations, yet disease transmission can still occur among co-workers as well as between workers and third parties. When it does spread, organizations may face potential liability under OSHA, Workers’ Compensation claims, and civil litigation. Occupational Health experts provide invaluable assistance in these situations by evaluating potential problem areas, reducing identified risk, and analyzing causation when companies face claims by workers and third parties. Infectious Disease specialists and Medical Toxicologists may also be consulted regarding the spread of disease and the effects of exposure, both relevant issues in determining liability.

Work-related infectious diseases are defined as those “primarily caused by occupational exposure to biologic agents such as bacteria, fungi, viruses, and parasites, that can be transmitted from human to human, from animal to human, or through environmental contact.” Infectious disease can be transmitted via direct contact, droplet, airborne (aerosol), ingestion, surfaces, and vectors (e.g. ticks). Exposure and the spread of disease can be mitigated through various means including compliant workflows, employee training, worksite monitoring, and the utilization of equipment and technology to lessen hazardous conditions or to place barriers between workers and hazards.

When claims are made involving transmission of infectious diseases, it can be difficult to establish causation because there are typically multiple causes contributing to the harm. Both workplace and worker-specific factors may combine to increase transmission risks and diagnostic delays. As a result, expert witness testimony is essential to support or refute causation.

Infectious Disease (ID) specialists are board certified physicians with a medical specialty focusing on the diagnosis and treatment of infections. They routinely draw conclusions regarding infectious diseases, and they are experts at educating the trier of fact on complex ID issues. Occupational Health or Occupational Medicine expert witnesses can provide essential testimony regarding regulatory requirements for Occupational Health, OSHA compliance, and causal links between work-related exposure and illness. In addition, depending on the nature of harm to the plaintiff, expert witnesses in Neurology, Endocrinology, Oncology, Hematology and other specialties may be needed to explain the nature and severity of damage to a jury.

The easy spread of many diseases, including new ones like the coronavirus, will likely lead to increased governmental scrutiny and more lawsuits to hold organizations accountable to protect workers and the public. If you are considering or involved in a claim of work-related infectious disease, please contact Elite Medical Experts for help with finding nationally recognized Board Certified Infectious Disease, Toxicology, Occupational Medicine and other related expert witnesses for your case.

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