It is a sad time for workers in the state of Ohio, particularly blue-collar workers who labor in dangerous conditions and have the potential to sustain serious injuries. In the relatively recent Ohio Supreme Court case of Houdek v. ThyssenKrupp Materials, N.A., Inc., a worker was severely injured on the job, spent six months in the hospital, and ultimately lost a leg. When he got out of the hospital, he brought an “employer intentional tort” action against his employer under Ohio Revised Code section 2745.01.
While generally injured workers in Ohio are limited to recourse via the Ohio workers’ compensation system, the employer intentional tort statute is supposed to allow an injured worker to file an a lawsuit directly against the employer when there is evidence of a “deliberate intent to injure.” The 2005 statute specifically states that “[d]eliberate removal by an employer of an equipment safety guard… creates a rebuttable presumption that the removal… was committed with intent to injure another if an injury… occurs as a direct result.”
Houdek involved an employee injury in a warehouse where Mr. Houdek’s leg was crushed by a sideloader and had to be amputated. Specifically, Houdek was working between twenty-five foot stacks of metal plates in a narrow aisle at ThyssenKrupp Materials when he looked up and saw an approaching sideloader. His co-worker operating the sideloader later stated that he didn’t see Houdek until it was too late. With no room to squeeze past the machine, Houdek tried to quickly climb up the metal racks but was pinned against another piece of equipment in the aisle. His right leg and ankle were crushed and his pelvis was fractured.
The Ohio Eighth District Court of Appeals in Cleveland agreed that Mr. Houdek’s injury was the result of the removal of a safety guard – safety cones and lighting – but the Ohio Supreme Court disagreed and reversed. In other words, the Supreme Court stated that even though Houdek’s employer removed critical safety equipment such as safety cones and lighting which directly caused the accident, Mr. Houdek was not entitled to recover a penny from the employer outside of the worker’s compensation system.
In Houdek the Supreme Court sent a clear message to employees and plaintiff’s lawyers alike: proving an employer intentional tort case in the state of Ohio is nearly impossible. While there is still a chance that a small number of the most egregious cases where there is a criminal intent to hurt a worker could potentially be successful, Hewitt will act as a strong deterrent for anyone seeking to bring an employer intentional tort action. Plaintiff’s lawyers will likely decline to take these cases in light of the time and expense required to pursue the cases coupled with the slim chance of success, thus making it even more difficult for injured workers to exercise their rights.
The Ohio work injury lawyers at the Charles E. Boyk Law Offices, LLC are here to discuss work injuries with potential clients. We offer free consultations and we will be able to answer the questions that you have. Call us today at 419-241-1395 or 1-800-637-8170.