Workers’ compensation

Issues surrounding workplace injuries merit close attention by all Ohio employers, with recent changes in Ohio law underscoring the need for continued vigilance.

The recent determination by the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation to eliminate the 75 percent premium rebate that many employers have been receiving is a prime example. Because many businesses have become accustomed to receiving the rebate, the unbudgeted leap in premiums will negatively impact their bottom line.

Be prepared for increases over your historic premiums for the upcoming year.

Ohio Supreme Court decisions will also have an impact on Ohio businesses. In Norgard v. Brush Wellman, 95 Ohio St.3d 165 (2002), the court addressed the question of when the statute of limitations begins to run in employer intentional tort claims. In Norgard, the injured worker filed a complaint alleging that his employer intentionally harmed him tort five years after it had been determined that he had developed an occupational disease due to his employment.

Prior to the decision, many employers understood the statute of limitations for such claims to be two years following the diagnosis of the condition. The court ruled that the injured worker was not required to file his case until two years after he became aware of the employer’s “wrongful conduct.”

Bailey v. Republic Engineered Steel, 91 Ohio St.3d 38 (2001), addressed work-related psychological trauma.

Prior to Bailey, most understood the law to require that in order to be compensable, a worker’s psychological trauma had to arise from one worker’s physical trauma.

In Bailey, after accidentally running over a co-worker with a tow motor, the tow motor operator filed for benefits alleging only a psychological injury. The Supreme Court held that his claim was compensable because there was, in fact, a contemporaneous physical trauma (albeit not to the claimant) — to the co-worker.

Employees in Ohio who lose two body parts (hands, arms, feet, legs, eyes, or any combination thereof) in the workplace are entitled to receive permanent and total disability benefits under an Ohio statute. In a decision that shocked many employers, State ex rel. Thomas v. Indus. Comm., 97 Ohio St.3d 37 (2002), the Supreme Court held that the loss of an arm necessarily includes the loss of a hand.

Because the injured worker lost both an arm and a hand, he qualified, under law, for statutory permanent total disability benefits.

Whether any of these issues will be revisited by the high court or become the topic of legislative reform in 2003 is unknown.

One message to Ohio business is, however, clear. Be vigilant.

Mary Eileen Purcell is an attorney in the Cleveland office of Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease LLP where she practices in the labor and employment group with an emphasis in workers’ compensation. She can be reached at 216.479.6104 or www.vssp.com.

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