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California workers' compensation claim denied? Don't drop it

Some readers will likely take interest in a recent decision by a state workers' compensation board from a state other than California. At issue was whether a veterinary assistant was entitled to have her former employer provide her workers' compensation benefits to pay for rabies shots. The state commission reversed a deputy commissioner's determination denying the claim.

The deputy commissioner had ruled that the animal clinic was not required to pay the worker who had undergone rabies treatment after an incident with a cat who was later found to have contracted a workplace illness.

The vet's assistant was said to have had open wounds on her hands as she was holding down the wounded cat so blood could drawn. The worker claimed that during this period, she was exposed to the cat's saliva. Just as many California residents would have elected to do, she underwent the two-week course of rabies shots. However, she was not initially granted workers' compensation coverage for the injections.

The cost of treatment for rabies can exceed $7,000 according to one state's Department of Health. However, despite this cost, the original ruling in this case held that workers compensation did not apply to the mere possibility of an infection. The deputy commissioner found that since the cat neither bit nor scratched the woman, that there was not enough evidence to establish that she had been infected.

In the appeal however, the full commission cited a 2002 case with similar circumstances. Based on the earlier case, the commission found that the treatment received was not preventative, but instead was treatment for an injury that had been received while on the job. As a result, they required the company to pay for the treatment in the more recent case.

Workers are often exposed to a wide range of illnesses when working in the medical care field. Whether it is through the exposure to an animal's or human's bodily fluids, workers are typically entitled to treatment that protects them from contracting lethal diseases. Hopefully, the determination made in this Virginia workers' compensation case will cause more California employers to step up to ensure that their workers are thoroughly protected.

Source: The Washington Post, "Vet worker wins claim for rabies treatment," David Sherfinski, June 18, 2012

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The Law Office of Gary C. Nelson
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