The Ohio Supreme Court has definitively decided that an employee cannot unilaterally dismiss an employer-initiated appeal in a workers’ compensation case; rather, the employer must consent to the dismissal.
After a workers’ compensation claim proceeds administratively before the Industrial Commission, any party may appeal the Commission’s decision to permit the employee to participate in the workers’ compensation system to the Court of Common Pleas. After an appeal is filed, the employee must file a petition/complaint within 30 days.
Regardless of which party files the appeal, the employee is the plaintiff in the workers’ compensation case. While the court case is proceeding on an employer-initiated appeal, the employee continues to receive workers’ compensation benefits. However, should the court reverse the Industrial Commission’s decision and deny the claim, the employer receives a refund of costs previously paid to the employee.
Ohio civil procedure rules permit plaintiffs to voluntarily dismiss a case and refile the case within one year. Prior to 2006, courts permitted employees to voluntarily dismiss their complaints in employer-initiated workers’ compensation appeals. In 2006, the Ohio legislature enacted a law that permitted employees to voluntarily dismiss an employer-initiated appeal only with the consent of the employer. The Supreme Court has now decided that the consent provision is constitutional.
In Ferguson v. State, Shannon Ferguson alleged he suffered injuries while working at Ford Motor Company on two different dates and filed two workers’ compensation claims. Administratively, the Industrial Commission recognized both claims. Ford filed two separate appeals to the court of common pleas regarding the allowances of the claims. Subsequently, Ferguson filed complaints in both cases alleging he was entitled to participate in the workers’ compensation system. The court consolidated both cases.
Prior to the scheduled trial date, Ferguson sought to voluntarily dismiss the case, but Ford refused to consent to the dismissal. Ferguson attempted to dismiss the case without Ford’s consent, but the trial court denied his motion. Thereafter, Ferguson filed a declaratory judgment against the state in a separate proceeding challenging the Ohio law requiring the consent of an employer for an employee to dismiss an employer-initiated workers’ compensation court appeal.
The trial court determined that the consent provision violated the Ohio and United States Constitutions. The state appealed and the 8th District Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision. The state appealed to the Supreme Court of Ohio. The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals and held that the consent provision is constitutional.
The Supreme Court’s decision is very beneficial for employers. The consent provision was created to limit ongoing payments of compensation and medical treatment to employees and to reduce unnecessary delays and associated costs with lengthy litigation. By requiring the consent of employers prior to dismissing an employer-initiated appeal, employers are once again in the driver’s seat to control their costs during litigation. There may be situations where it is beneficial to all parties to permit a dismissal of an employer-initiated appeal and now the employer will be in control of that decision.