September 15, 2023


September 15, 2023

In a recent case tried before an arbitrator at the IWCC, Wiedner & McAuliffe partners Brian Hindman and Matt Rokusek won a favorable decision by working with our client, Tyson Foods, Inc., in developing a successful defense to a COVID-19 case brought under the Illinois Occupational Diseases Act in Eufrocina Martinez de Cruz v. Tyson Fresh Meats, 20 WC 011058 (September 11, 2023).

Petitioner sought recovery following the death of her husband due to alleged occupational exposure to COVID-19 while at work. Petitioner’s claim was presumed compensable as a front-line worker pursuant to Section 1(g)4 of the Act. Petitioner presented testimony suggesting Tyson failed to take actions to reduce the risk of exposure per guidance from the CDC or Illinois Department of Public Health in the early days of the pandemic.

Tyson presented a two-prong defense by presenting expert testimony and evidence to refute Petitioner’s claim that the decedent was exposed at work. Our defenses included expert testimony from an environmental health and safety expert addressing compliance with the Federal and State guidance, testimony from an epidemiologist regarding COVID-19 as a “community spread disease,” and physician testimony based on the specific medical records and treatment in this case. Following review of the evidence and testimony, the Arbitrator found:

  1. Tyson met its burden of proof to rebut the COVID-19 presumption pursuant to Section 1(g)(3)(B) of the Act, which shifted the burden of proof back to Petitioner; and
  2. Petitioner failed to meet her burden of proof by a preponderance of the credible evidence as required by the Act.

In so finding, all other issues were found moot and this case was denied. While Petitioner is likely to appeal to the IWCC, this decision provides guidance as to the evidence necessary to defeat the COVID-19 presumption, and represents the first step in a successful outcome for our client.

If you have any questions on this decision, COVID-19, occupational diseases, or any workers’ compensation claim, please contact any attorney at Wiedner and McAuliffe by email or phone at 312-855-1105.