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Life Care Centers v. Industrial Claim Appeals Office.

2024 COA 47. No. 23CA1295. Workers’ Compensation—Conditions of Recovery—Occupational Disease—COVID-19.

May 2, 2024

Gaines worked for Life Care Centers of America (Life Care), which operates University Park Care Center (the facility), a long-term skilled nursing facility. Gaines was employed by Life Care for over 20 years as a floor technician and a member of the housekeeping department. His duties included cleaning and maintaining the facility’s main areas (the dining room, hallways, common areas, lobby, etc.), and collecting and disposing of the facility’s trash. On May 24, 2020, a Life Care resident tested positive for COVID-19. Gaines became sick with COVID-19 on or about May 26, 2020, and the facility declared a COVID-19 outbreak three days later. Gaines’s health deteriorated rapidly, and he died in early July 2020. On June 8, 2020, Gaines’s spouse, Jackson, filed a workers’ compensation claim on his behalf based on his exposure to and contraction of COVID-19 at the facility, and she later filed for death benefits. Petitioners (Life Care and its insurer, Old Republic Insurance Company) filed a notice of contest. An administrative law judge (ALJ) ultimately issued findings of fact and conclusions of law, concluding that Gaines had suffered a compensable occupational disease causally related to his employment. A panel of the Industrial Claim Appeals Office (panel) affirmed.

On appeal, petitioners argued that the panel misapplied the law regarding occupational diseases. They asserted that because Gaines did enter resident rooms or transport infected residents, the ALJ erred by determining that it was probable Gaines came into contact with an infected resident or coworker. Here, the evidence showed that there were two COVID-19 cases that could be connected to the same Life Care physical location, and Gaines’s acute illness, hospitalization, and respiratory failure were consistent with an exposure around May 20, 2020, or after. Further, there was no credible evidence that Gaines contracted the infection anywhere else. Accordingly, the ALJ did not err by crediting the testimony and other evidence before him to determine that Gaines most probably contracted COVID-19 at the facility. Therefore, substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s findings and thus the panel’s determination, and petitioners are liable for Gaines’s workers’ compensation benefits.

The panel’s order was affirmed.

Official Colorado Court of Appeals proceedings can be found at the Colorado Court of Appeals website.

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