Imagine this: An employee has been warned twice about safety violations. Then he’s injured because of a third violation. Do you have to pay him workers’ comp benefits?
George Haddox was a truck driver for Forest City Technologies, Inc., in Ohio. He was injured in a vehicle crash within the course and scope of his employment. He suffered a sprain in the lumbar region.
The crash was Haddox’s third moving violation in a year, and as a result, Forest City’s liability insurance would no longer cover him. The company fired him one month after the crash.
Haddox filed a request for temporary total disability (TTD) under workers’ comp, beginning on the date he was injured. A hearing officer denied the request, concluding Haddox’s firing constituted a voluntary abandonment of employment because he’d violated a company policy that led to termination for a third offense. The full workers’ comp commission denied Haddox’s appeal.
Haddox took his case to a state appeals court, arguing he was entitled to TTD because he lost his job due to his injury, so he didn’t leave his job voluntarily.
What caused Haddox to lose his job became the crux of this case.
What is ‘voluntary abandonment’ of job?
In making its decision, the appeals court relied on a 2007 Ohio Supreme Court decision, Gross v. Industrial Commission, which dealt with voluntary abandonment in a workers’ comp case.
Davis Gross, an employee at a KFC restaurant, burned himself and two others when he placed water in a pressurized deep fryer and then opened the lid.
KFC fired Gross for violating a workplace safety rule and defying repeated verbal warnings. The workers’ comp commission said this was voluntary abandonment of employment and terminated Gross’s TTD benefits.
The Ohio Supreme Court ordered the commission to reinstate Gross’s benefits. The court said the underlying issue in a voluntary abandonment case is whether the injury or the termination is the cause of loss of earnings. In KFC’s termination letter, it said Gross’s rule violation, resulting in the injury that led to his subsequent firing, established that his discharge was related to his injury.
Since the injury was caused by the same misconduct that led to the firing, eligibility for TTD doesn’t change. That meant his termination was involuntary, and in turn, TTD benefits weren’t barred.
The appeals court ruled the situation in Haddox’s case was the same: He was injured by the misconduct that caused his firing. Haddox should get the TTD benefits, according to the court.
The case next went to the Ohio Supreme Court which ruled:
“Because Haddox was discharged for the same misconduct that caused his industrial injury, the discharge was not tantamount to a voluntary abandonment of employment that precludes temporary total disability compensation.”
And that’s the final word: Haddox should get his TTD benefits. This is another example of how courts in some states have been reluctant to expand the situations in which the exclusive remedy of workers’ compensation does not apply.
What do you think about the court’s decision? Let us know in the comments below.
(State ex rel. Haddox v. Indus. Comm., Supreme Court of Ohio, No. 10AP-152, 2011-Ohio-3923, 3/12/13))