As WV firefighter with COVID-19 fights for life, insurance refuses to open claim

Coronavirus

BROOKE COUNTY, W.VA (WTRF) — A West Virginia firefighter is on a ventilator fighting for his life after contracting COVID-19, but a worker’s comp insurance agency is refusing to open a claim for him.

Now his family and the city are fighting for him to get compensation.

Lt. Brian Ritchie, 50, who has been a firefighter for Weirton Fire Department for 13 years, contracted the virus on Dec. 17.

As a firefighter, it is virtually impossible to socially distance while on duty.

Attorney Teresa Toriseva said those on Ritchie’s entire shift tested positive for COVID-19 and so did most on the opposite shift.

She said the city reported the case as occupational exposure to Encova, the worker’s comp insurance agency, but the company is refusing to open a claim.

“He couldn’t avoid COVID at work. It is what it is for firefighters. And when they’re harmed from an occupational disease, they should be covered — wages, medical bills,” Toriseva said. “That’s what the system is designed to do. It’s failing here.”

Toriseva said Encova, formerly Brickstreet, “is not complying with the law.”

West Virginia’s Offices of the Insurance Commission cited guidance on its website from the National Council on Compensation Insurance on whether COVID-19 is compensable under state workers compensation acts. It states:

The answer to that question is “maybe.” While workers compensation laws provide compensation for “occupational diseases” that arise out of and in the course of employment, many state statutes exclude “ordinary diseases of life” (e.g., the common cold or flu). There are occupational groups that arguably would have a higher probability for exposure such as healthcare workers. However, even in those cases, there may be uncertainty as to whether the disease is compensable.

NCCI

Toriseva says she hopes a judge will force the insurance commissioner to open a claim to at least consider whether Ritchie contracted COVID-19 as a result of occupational exposure.

WTRF have reached out to Encova but did not immediately receive a response.

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