Injured Worker with Psychiatric Only Claim Can Sue Employer for Negligence
Bunger v. Lawson Co. (8/5/98), 82 Ohio St.3d 463.
In Bunger v. Lawson Co. the Supreme Court found that an injured worker who suffers a psychiatric only injury can sue the employer for negligence.
R.C. 4123.01(C) excludes workers with psychiatric only claims from receiving workers’ compensation for their injury. The Supreme Court ignored a constitutional challenge to this exclusion.
Instead, the Court held that the provisions of the workers’ compensation law which provide an employer with immunity from a negligence suit by an employee for injuries sustained in their employment do not apply where the type of injury is not covered under the workers’ compensation law.
The Supreme Court held in the syllabus of this case:
R.C. 4123.01(C) and 4123.74 do not foreclose an employee who has suffered purely psychological injuries from pursuing a common-law remedy against his or her employer.
The majority ignored the issue of whether the exclusion of psychiatric only claims from the workers’ compensation system was constitutional. The Supreme Court has never ruled on the issue of whether the exclusion of psychiatric only claims violates the constitution. Justice Douglas dissented because of the constitutional issue:
I dissent from the decision of the majority because, in my judgment, the provisions of R.C. Chapter 4123 that attempt to exclude purely psychological injuries from compensability under the Workers’ Compensation Act violate principles of equal protection. There is no rational justification for allowing workers’ compensation benefits for broken bones but not for broken minds. I would hold that if appellant can show a mental injury, then appellant has protection under the Workers’ Compensation Act and, thus, has entitlement to workers’ compensation benefits for her purely psychological injuries. Subjecting Ohio employers to civil liability in such cases is clearly not the answer.