In Ohio, injured workers receive compensation from the state’s Bureau of Worker’s Compensation when they are injured in a work-related accident. This mechanism exists to provide a workable system that compensates workers for the injuries they suffer in service to their employer and protects employers from facing the prospect of a lawsuit each time an employee is hurt.
The system is essentially a compromise for both sides. Employees are generally assured the compensation and medical care they need after an injury — even if it occurred due to his or her own negligence. On the other hand, employers are generally protected from paying out large personal injury damages because the Bureau of Workers Compensation takes care of employees with money collected from employers and held in trust for potential claimants.
While this system works to take care of most injuries arising out of employment situations, there are some situations that fall outside of the workers’ compensation system. In the 1980’s, the Ohio Supreme Court recognized an exception to the general rule which essentially gives employers immunity from personal injury lawsuits brought by workers.
Under the exception, employers could be held responsible for damages beyond workers’ compensation benefits for what were called “workplace intentional torts.” Generally, this was a pretty narrow exception in which an injured worker would have to prove that an employer “intentionally” caused an injury. In this case, “intentional” meant the employer was more than just negligent and even more than reckless.
Employers, obviously, did not like this exception because it exposed them to potential liability beyond what they already paid to the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation. Over the years, a number of efforts have been made to close or further narrow this exception through statutes. While many of those efforts failed, two cases decided by the Ohio Supreme Court earlier this year found the most recent legislation constitutional, which may be quite a setback for injured workers.
In our next post, we will discuss these two court opinions and how they affect the rights of injured employees.
Ohio Supreme Court delivers victory for business and defeat for injured workers; Justice Paul Pfeifer dissents (Cleveland Plain Dealer)