This is an update of a post published on July 6, 2020
Americans can live and work where they want within the United States. But as I wrote last year, they aren’t free to claim workers’ compensation where they want. But true to form, COVID-19 has added another complication to this constitutional conundrum.
New York, New Jersey and Connecticut announced fines for residents who did not quarantine for 14 days after travelling to states with rising COVID-19 cases. New York, New Jersey and Connecticut added Nebraska to the quarantine list on July 21st.
The City of Chicago implemented a similar quarantine policy, but have not added Nebraska to their list of states.
In short, injured workers in those states face a 14-day quarantine if they forced to travel to Nebraska for their workers’ compensation case. The new quarantine will impact truckers who live in those states who got hurt working for Nebraska-based Crete Carrier and Werner.
A rock and a hard place for injured workers
I sympathize with and share the public health concerns of my friends and colleagues in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Illinois. But if COVID cases continue to increase and or more states start imposing quarantines, more injured workers are going be facing the prospect of a quarantine if they travel out of state for their workers’ compensation cases.
As enhanced unemployment benefits expire this month, a worker under quarantine faces a lot of uncertainty over income. This is especially true for an injured workers who may have already been facing financial hardship before the pandemic. Quarantines may give employers/defendants more leverage in settlement negotiations as well.
Alternatives to interstate travel?
Are there alternatives to in-person workers’ compensation hearings? Per Neb. Rev. Stat. 48-177, in Nebraska parties can agree to video hearings. But there is no way for a Judge to force a video hearing. Many lawyers and judges seem to prefer in person hearings when they need to weigh the credibility of witness testimony. Many workers’ compensation trials have the injured worker as the sole witness. But the credibility of the medical records submitted into the records often relies on the credibility of the witness.
Before trial, employers will often depose or question injured workers. Courts have more power to force video or telephonic depositions. So an out of state worker is more likely to avoid a trip back to Nebraska for a deposition. But I have had out of state clients compelled to travel to Nebraska for depositions.
Travel within Nebraska
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, I have seen more efforts to move depositions from central and western Nebraska to Lincoln. Within Nebraska, employers have less power to compel an injured worker to travel long distances for trial or deposition. At the IRS mileage rate, the cost of driving across Nebraska can equal the cost of air travel to a regional air hub like Denver or Chicago.