See’s Candies, a popular chocolatier, has been sued by a worker in relation to her COVID-19 diagnosis, but not for a reason you might think. She apparently contracted the deadly virus while working in a See’s Candies manufacturing plant that had few pandemic safeguards in place. Her husband later contracted the virus from her and passed away. Now she is suing her employer in a case that might change the face of California worker’s compensation law.
The complications of the case stem from the fact that See’s Candies acknowledged that her husband’s death was caused by COVID that she likely contracted in their workplace. The company believed that it could not be held liable for the man’s death due to the “exclusive remedy” rule in workers’ compensation, which, essentially, states that a worker can get workers’ compensation for a job-related injury, but it cannot sue the employer directly for damages. This rule has been a staple to workers’ comp programs in the state and around the country for so long, it feels fundamental and unchangeable.
Yet a Los Angeles Superior Court recently allowed the woman’s lawsuit against See’s Candies to stand while she simultaneously sought workers’ compensation benefits related to her coronavirus illness. Depending on the outcome of the case, it could open the legal doors for other claimants to take a dual approach to receive compensation after a workplace accident or illness, not just in California but across the country, too.
However, it is important to realize that there are unique considerations in the See’s Candies lawsuit, though. Namely, the court found that the claimant’s illness was related to workers’ compensation, but her husband’s illness and death were not, given that he did not work for the company. Furthermore, it held that See’s Candies was negligent in its relaxed enforcement of COVID precautions, which heightened its liability for the situation. Due to these circumstances, it is not guaranteed that the “exclusive remedy” rule will be dismantled just because of a positive outcome for the claimant.