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Appeals court says design engineer’s COVID death work-related


An appeals court in Arizona on Thursday affirmed workers compensation death benefits in the case of a design engineer whose wife claimed he caught COVID-19 at work while conversing with a co-worker and died weeks later.

Kenneth Zerby, who was considered high-risk for COVID-19 complications as a prediabetic and was immunocompromised following a kidney transplant in 2003, was working for Western Millwork in Phoenix when he contracted the virus in October 2020, according to Western Millwork, Cincinnati Insurance Co. v. Zerby, filed in the Arizona Court of Appeals, Division One.

His employer disputed that he caught the virus at work, which his wife claimed was the result of a conversation with a co-worker who tested positive in the days following. Instead, lawyers for Western Millwork argued Mr. Zerby caught the virus while having dinner at a restaurant, where he and his wife sat outdoors with friends, including another co-worker, one of whom tested positive days later, according to court records.

An administrative law judge with the Industrial Commission of Arizona ruled in favor of Ms. Zerby. The appeals court, weighing medical testimony that put Mr. Zerby’s infection date at the time of the work meeting, affirmed, writing that the man’s employment required him to “have contact with project managers such as (the infected co-worker) from time to time” and that the “record does not adequately support that (he) was exposed outside of work… during the relevant time when he could have become infected.”