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Family of WSPD officer who died of COVID to get hearing on workers' comp claim

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Attorneys representing the family of the late police Sgt. Michael McDonald and the city of Winston-Salem will meet in a mediation hearing in January to discuss the family’s worker’s compensation claim for his death.

McDonald’s family believes that McDonald contracted the coronavirus during his work at the Carolina Classic Fair in Winston-Salem last year.

McDonald died Oct. 22, 2021 at Forsyth Medical Center. The underlying cause of McDonald’s death was COVID-19 pneumonia, according to his death certificate.

Cheryl McDonald, Michael’s widow, said Friday that she isn’t optimistic that the city will pay her family’s worker’s compensation claim for her husband’s death.

Attorneys on both sides haven’t yet agreed on a January date for the hearing, she said.

“It’s not been a pleasant process with the interaction with the city,” McDonald said. “But that doesn’t mean you stop fighting for the right thing.”

City Attorney Angela Carmon declined to comment about the case Friday and referred questions about the matter to Barbara Ruark of Winston-Salem, the attorney who is representing the city.

Ruark couldn’t be reached for comment.

Carmon later emailed a statement about the case to the Winston-Salem Journal.

“The city mourns the loss of all of its deceased employees, including those who have passed away since the onslaught of COVID-19,” Carmon said. “This particular matter is a workers’ compensation case that is being handled by outside legal counsel.

“The city’s outside legal counsel has advised the city to refrain from making public comments regarding this matter due to the various personnel privacy laws and other laws that severely restrict the ability to the city, while not others, from commenting on this matter,” Carmon said. “As such, the city must reserve all comments for the appropriate legal forum.”

Cheryl McDonald points to a May 16 ruling by the N.C. Industrial Commission that determined that Michael McDonald “more likely than not died as a result of COVID-19 infection that he contracted in the course and the scope of his employment with the (Winston-Salem Police Department).

“Accordingly, (McDonald) “was killed in the line of duty and ... benefits are payable for his death,” the state industrial commission said.

The commission determined that McDonald had sustained contact with a fellow officer who tested positive for COVID-19 on Oct. 4, 2021. The commission didn’t say whether that officer recovered from the virus.

The industrial commission awarded Cheryl McDonald $100,000 for husband’s death. McDonald said she has received the state money.

However, the city of Winston-Salem denied Cheryl McDonald’s worker’s compensation claim for her husband.

In a document dated Feb. 18, the industrial commission said that the city argued that Michael McDonald did not suffer an injury or develop an occupational disease as a result of his employment.

The city also argued that the contraction of COVID-19 and resulting death of McDonald, “particularly in an unvaccinated person, was not an unlooked for or untoward event, and therefore was not an accident within the meaning of the Workers’ Compensation Act,” according to the document.

The city also argued that Michael McDonald refused to get vaccinated, “and may have failed to wear his mask as required,” the document said.

Cheryl McDonald, a lawyer, said the worker’s compensation claim for her husband has met its legal burden.

“Stretching this out is incredibly painful for our family that has lost so much,” McDonald said. “I think they (city officials) need to do the right thing.”

Wanda Rhyne of Moore County, the president of N.C. Concerns for Police Survivors, said the city should pay the worker’s compensation claim for McDonald’s death.

“I’m thrilled that she (Cheryl McDonald) is fighting for him and her family,” Rhyne said. “He was doing his duty while other people were staying at home.”

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@jhintonWSJ

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