Ohio Courts Limit Employer Intentional Tort Lawsuits

by Dean Pavick on February 7, 2014

Under Ohio law, employers who negligently cause on the job injuries to employees cannot be held liable for damages in a negligence action.

However, employers, in limited cases, may be held liable for an intentional tort action for directly causing injuries to an employee which occur in the workplace. The first type of  an employer intentional tort action under Ohio statute occurs where the employer acts with deliberate intent to cause an employee to suffer an injury, a disease, a condition, or death. This first type of intentional tort is virtually impossible to prove in most cases. The second type of intentional action under the statute occurs when the employer deliberately removes an equipment safety guard or deliberately misrepresents a toxic or hazardous substance which creates a rebuttal presumption that the removal or misrepresentation was committed with the intent to injure another if an injury or occupational disease or condition occurs as a direct result.

In the Ohio Supreme Court case of Hewitt v. L.E. Myers Co., the Court held that an “equipment safety guard” means a device designed to shield the operator from exposure to an injury by a dangerous aspect of the equipment, and the “deliberate removal” of an equipment safety guard occurs when an employer makes a deliberate decision to “lift, push aside,take off, or otherwise eliminate that guard”. In the Hewitt case the employee suffered serious burns which he attributed to the employer’s failure to provide him with the proper type of gloves. The Court held that this was not an equipment safety guard. In the case of Wright v. Mar-Bal, Inc., the 11th District Court of Appeals held that the employer’s failure to follow proper safety procedures and failure to provide adequate training and safety devices was not sufficient to establish deliberate intent to injure an employee. There was no evidence that the employer deliberately removed any equipment safety guard which caused the injured worker’s injuries. As the Court noted, an employer’s failure to follow proper safety procedures might be classified as grossly negligent or wanton, but does not constitute an intentional tort.

 

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