Differences Between Ohio Workers Compensation Law and Ohio Personal Injury Law

by Dean Pavick on October 24, 2012

We recently received a phone call from a young man(we’ll call “Joe”) from Akron who was injured several months ago when he fell off of an extension ladder which suddenly shifted on him. Joe suffered multiple fractures and is expected to be off work at least one year. Joe was working alone at the time as an electrician.He set up the ladder himself.His Ohio workers compensation claim was allowed by the BWC and all medical bills have been paid to date along with temporary total compensation payments.However, Joe was very frustrated and distraught that the ladder accident resulted in postponement of his wedding, a cancelled honeymoon vacation with some non-refundable costs and a shattering of his personal life.

Joe wanted to know whether he could sue his employer in negligence for violation of a company work rule which he says required the presence of at least two workers at a work site when requiring use of an extension ladder(or something close to this effect).The employer was current on its workers compensation premiums to the Ohio BWC.

Based solely upon the facts which Joe presented, we advised him: (1) he would likely not prevail in a negligence lawsuit against his employer;(2) he would likely not prevail in an intentional tort personal injury lawsuit against his employer (3) his sole remedies were limited to the statutory benefits provided under the Ohio Workers’ Compensation Law. We advised Joe that we might be able to assist him in the future on his BWC claim for securing other benefits in his claim.

Our analysis of the presented facts and applicable law reflects the different goals and legal requirements between the Ohio Workers’ Compensation Law and Ohio personal injury(tort) law. Prior to 1911, an employee’s sole remedy for injuries suffered on the job was to file a lawsuit against the employer based upon common law tort actions (negligence).However, the employer’s legal responsibilities were so limited, the legal defenses which could be raised against the injured employee were so severe, the litigation costs so expensive, and the delays so great, that most injured workers ended up with nothing.Even though employers usually prevailed in these lawsuits, the costs for a legal defense often had a negative impact on their businesses, fraught with uncertain cost exposure.As a result, the Ohio legislature passed the first workers’ compensation law in 1911.This was followed by the passing of a constitutional amendment(Section 35 of Article II) in 1912.The workers compensation laws thereafter continued to basically expand the number of employers and employees covered under the system.The trade-offs are: (1) covered employers who pay premiums to the BWC enjoy absolute immunity from tort(negligence) liability brought by an employee for a work-connected injury; (2)employees do not have to prove fault on the part of the employer and are not subject to common law defenses which can bar recovery; (3)limited forms of compensation and injury- related medical services to the employees can be delivered in a more expeditious, inexpensive, and uniform manner.These are the underlying goals and theories of workers compensation.

The following is the basic difference between Ohio workers compensation and Ohio personal injury(tort) law:

Workers Compensation                                        Personal Injury

No- Fault system                                                      Fault -Based (some exceptions)

Work-Connected Injury                                         Liability:Wrongful Acts/Omissions

Purpose:Safety Net/Avoid Destitution           Purpose: Make “Whole”/Restore

Intention: Reasonable Compensation              Intention: Full Compensation

Employee Trust Fund/Employer Immunity    Right A Wrong for Individual

Recovery Basis: Strictly Statutory                       Common Law & Statutory

No Pain & Suffering                                                      Pain & Suffering

No Non-tangible Damages                                        Non-Tangible Damages

Work-Related Injuries}Disability                           Proximately Caused Damages

No Loss of Consortium                                                  Loss of Consortium

No Punitive Damages                                                     Punitive Damages(some cases)

Note: An employer’s intentional tort action is outside of the workers compensation system and is addressed elsewhere on this website.



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