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Hoyle v. DTJ Enters., Inc. – Intentional Torts and Employers

The intent of workers’ compensation law is to ensure costs resulting from industrial accidents and conditions are borne largely by industry. By ensuring workers receive definite and speedy payments for medical expenses and lost wages incurred for on-the-job injuries and illnesses, they forfeit the right to pursue further litigation.
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This is true across the country, and it’s referred to as “exclusive remedy.” It means workers’ compensation is the exclusive remedy through which workers can be compensated for occupational ailments or injuries. Companies are otherwise immune from civil litigation on these matters.

But, as with all areas of law, there are exceptions. There is the third-party litigation that can be brought against parties who are not considered employers. Beyond that, there is the realm of “intentional tort” by employers.

This has been very narrowly interpreted by most courts. In some states, it’s all but impossible to bring such a claim. The definition generally holds anything less than outright, specific intention on the employer’s part is insufficient to permit exception to the exclusivity rule. This typically is not going to extend to situations in which employer acts with indifference or even creates an exceptionally or unlawfully hazardous work environment. It instead means the actual intent to cause harm to the worker.

Our experienced workers’ compensation attorneys in Atlanta work to analyze a claim from every angle, to ascertain all recovery options available to clients.

The recent case of Hoyle v. DTJ Enters., Inc. before the Ohio Supreme Court deals with an alleged intentional tort by an employer.

According to court records, the case began when a worker suffered injuries after falling from a ladder-jack scaffold. At the time, he was working as a carpenter on a construction project.

The worker sued his employer for intentional tort. An expert witness testifying on worker’s behalf explained that worker safety on such a device requires the ladder-jacket bracket be secured to the ladder, and the platform be secured to each bracket. But on this project, when the worker assembled the scaffold, there were no bolts or pins to secure the ladder jacks onto the ladders.

Employee says the supervisor on the job told workers they didn’t need the bolts or pins because “they take too much time to use.”

Worker fell 14 feet form the scaffold onto concrete below.

In Ohio, an intentional tort involves an act committed with specific intent to injure OR with the believe injury is substantially certain to occur. It’s plausible worker may have a claim based on the latter definition.

However, the dispute that made it to the state supreme court was not whether the intentional tort claim was viable, but rather whether the company’s insurance company had a duty to indemnify the firm for an intentional tort.

Unlike the broader duty to defend, an insurer’s duty to indemnify an insured is based on whether there is actual liability. The state supreme court ultimately ruled the insurer does not have a duty to indemnify in those circumstances where an insured’s act is committed with deliberate intent to injure a worker.

For the worker, this simply means if his claim is successful, it will be paid directly by the employer, rather than the employer’s workers’ compensation insurance company.

For information on Atlanta work injury compensation, contact J. Franklin Burns, P.C., at 1-404-303-7770.

Additional Resources:
Hoyle v. DTJ Enters., Inc., March 12, 2015, Ohio Supreme Court
More Blog Entries:
Nealy v. Santa Monica – Workers’ Comp Request Granted While Discrimination Claim Denied, March 10, 2015, Atlanta Work Accident Lawyer Blog