On March 18, 2008, the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Appellate District struck down the portion of Ohio’s Tort Reform Act that created a heightened standard for employees bringing intentional tort claims against their employers. Specifically, Kaminski v. Metal & Wire Prods. Co., Case No. 07-CO-15 (7th Dist. March 18, 2008), was the first appellate decision addressing the constitutionality of this heightened standard, and it found the standard improper.
Normally, an employee who suffers a workplace injury cannot file a lawsuit but must, instead, seek compensation under Ohio’s workers’ compensation system. Proof that the employer’s conduct was intentional, however, allows the employee to go around the workers’ compensation system and file a lawsuit for damages.
Under the law in effect before the 2005 passage of R.C. 2745.01 – the tort reform provision challenged in Kaminski –the employee had to prove that the employer required the employee to act knowing that an injury was “substantially certain” to occur. Determining whether employer fault rose to this “substantially certain” level was hotly contested in intentional tort cases, with many employers believing that the standard as applied by most courts was too low.
R.C. 2745.01 essentially raised this standard by clarifying that “substantially certain means that an employer acts with deliberate intent to cause an employee to suffer an injury….” It further required that employees prove all elements of intentional tort claims by “clear and convincing” evidence – a more stringent burden of proof than the typical “preponderance of the evidence.”
The Kaminski court found that this “deliberate intent to injure” standard was so high that it effectively eliminated the cause of action for employer intentional torts. The court then cited earlier Ohio Supreme Court precedent that rejected as unconstitutional efforts to legislate a common-law cause of action out of existence. Based on those cases, the court found that R.C. 2745.01 was unconstitutional. The court’s ruling effectively restores the old “substantially certain to occur” standard and eliminates the requirement that employees prove a “deliberate intent to injure” through clear and convincing evidence.
Kaminski binds only lower courts within the Seventh Appellate District, which includes Belmont, Carroll, Columbiana, Harrison, Jefferson, Mahoning, Monroe, and Noble counties. It may nevertheless be cited as persuasive authority by other appellate districts, and it is therefore likely that the constitutionality of R.C. 2745.01 eventually will be addressed by the Supreme Court of Ohio.
We’ll keep an eye on this and provide you with updates.