Linda Wooten v. Maine Turnpike Authority– Where the employee was exposed to a Covid-19 infected co-worker in the EZ-Pass office for over 16 hours over the course of two consecutive work days, the Appellate Division affirmed the ALJ’ s granting of Wooten’s Petition for Award, finding the Covid-19 infection was compensable as a personal injury under 39-A M.R.S.A sec. 201. The Appellate Panel rejected the employer’s argument that Covid-19 was an occupational disease and that the claim should be denied because the illness was not characteristic of Wooten’s trade, occupation, processes or employment. The Appellate Division held that Covid-19 could be compensable as a personal injury and Wooten was not required to establish compensability as an occupational disease under 39-A M.R.S.A. sec. 603.

In Russell v. Camden Community Hospital, 359 A.2d 607, 612 (Me. 1976), the Law Court affirmed a decision finding a nurse’s contraction of tuberculosis to be an occupational disease because the risk of contracting tuberculosis was characteristic of the nurse’s occupation. It further observed that the occupational disease law was not intended to extend to workers who contract diseases regardless of the nature of the occupation. Relying on Russell, the MTA argued that Covid-19 can be contracted anywhere and that because Wooten was not an essential worker, exposure was not characteristic of her trade or occupation. The Appellate Panel observed that other Appellate Division decisions have found diseases such as Lyme disease compensable. It was not an error for the ALJ to find Wooten met her burden of proof establishing a personal injury under sec. 201.

The panel also affirmed the ALJ’s finding of causation where there we no other known exposures, the ALJ applied the CDC guidance for risk factors to Covid-19 exposure, and the compensability factors outlined in Comeau.

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Daniel F. Gilligan