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Court News Ohio

Insurance Policy Does Not Cover Employer That Intends to Injure Workers

The provisions of an employers’ insurance policy do not require the insurer to compensate the Akron employers if they are found in a pending lawsuit to have acted with deliberate intent to injure an employee, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled today.

An Ohio employee has a right to sue his or her employer for a workplace injury if it can be shown that the employer intended to injure the employee. Other claims for workplace injuries are handled through the state workers’ compensation system.

R.C. 2745.01 states that an employer is liable for a workplace injury only if it acted with “the intent to injure another” or with “the belief that the injury was substantially certain to occur.”

R.C. 2745.01 states that an employer is liable for a workplace injury only if it acted with “the intent to injure another” or with “the belief that the injury was substantially certain to occur.”

In the court’s opinion, Justice Judith L. French wrote that the employers DTJ Enterprises, Inc., and Cavanaugh Building Corporation have an insurance policy from Cincinnati Insurance Company (CIC) that in effect excludes coverage for acts committed with the deliberate intent to injure an employee.

The decision reinstates the trial court’s summary judgment in CIC’s favor and reverses the appeals court’s ruling.

Employee Injured
Duane A. Hoyle, a carpenter working for DTJ and Cavanaugh, fell about 14 feet from a scaffold at a construction project in March 2008. Hoyle claims that the job superintendent did not allow employees to secure brackets to the ladders with bolts to support the raised platform because it took too much time. Hoyle sued his employers in Summit County for his injuries.

The insurance company intervened in the case, claiming it had no obligation to compensate its insureds, the employers, if Hoyle won his case.

Insurance Policy Coverage
The employers’ general liability policy excludes coverage for workplace injuries and for intentional acts by the employers that cause bodily injuries. However, the employers also paid additional premiums for more coverage through a policy endorsement (called “Employers Liability Coverage Form – Ohio”). That endorsement obligates CIC to pay when the employer’s acts were “substantially certain” to cause injury, but it bars coverage for acts committed with the “deliberate intent” to injure. However, Justice French explained, “substantially certain” and “deliberate intent” have the same meaning under state law.

State Law
R.C. 2745.01, which governs employer intentional torts, states that an employer is liable for a workplace injury only if it acted with “the intent to injure another” or with “the belief that the injury was substantially certain to occur.” Justice French pointed out that “substantially certain” is then defined in the law as the “deliberate intent” to cause an injury.

As a result, DTJ and Cavanaugh cannot be legally obligated to pay damages in this case unless they are found to have acted with the intent to injure Hoyle, Justice French wrote.

“[I]ntent to injure is an essential element of his claim for employer intentional tort,” she noted. “Because the Employers Liability Coverage Form excludes from coverage ‘liability for acts committed by or at the direction of an insured with the deliberate intent to injure,’ there is no set of facts under which DTJ and Cavanaugh could be legally liable to Hoyle that falls within the policy’s coverage.”

Joining Justice French’s opinion were Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justice Terrence O’Donnell. Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger concurred in the court’s syllabus and judgment in a written opinion joined by Justice Sharon L. Kennedy.

Justice William M. O’Neill dissented in an opinion joined by Justice Paul E. Pfeifer.

Justice Lanzinger agreed with the court’s judgment and also pointed out that the state legislature has “closed off” employer intentional torts by equating substantially certain acts with deliberate ones.

“There is now nothing less than deliberate intent,” she wrote. “As a practical matter, employees will be limited to workers’ compensation remedies for their workplace injuries.”

Dissenting Opinion
In his dissent, Justice O’Neill cited Blankenship v. Cincinnati Milacron Chems, Inc. (1982), in which the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that employers are not immune from civil liability when they intentionally injure their workers.

“The case before us demonstrates the money-driven efforts to return once again to the pre-Blankenship days, when profits were never placed in peril by the egregious acts of management,” Justice O’Neill wrote.

In his view, the CIC insurance policy does not limit the definition of intent to only deliberateintent. He reasoned that the employers’ actions “could in fact be found to be substantially certain to cause an injury but not be driven by a deliberate intent to injure,” which would make DTJ and Cavanaugh legally liable under the policy and R.C. 2745.01.

He noted that CIC drafted the language in its policy and collected premiums from the employers.

“CIC got the benefit of its deal with DTJ, and now, under the express terms of its policy, it should absolutely be required, based on the language it authored itself, to indemnify DTJ and Cavanaugh for any intentional tort except for those acts committed with deliberate intent,” he concluded.

2013-1405. Hoyle v. DTJ Ents., Inc., Slip Opinion No. 2015-Ohio-843.

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