Employer Committed Intentional Tort
Harbin v. Ohi-Tec Mfg., Inc. (6/14/02), Clark No. 2001CA-70, 2002-Ohio-2923.
Issue: Did evidence support jury finding of an intentional tort?
Background: Harbin worked on a mechanical press. Occasionally pieces of metal would get caught in the press. Harbin’s supervisor instructed him to press the “top stop” button, wait for the press to stop, and then reach in with his hand or a screwdriver to remove the metal.
The employer never warned Harbin of the dangers of the press, nor did it follow safety procedures followed in the industry.
Harbin’s left little finger and ring finger were amputated, and his left middle finger was crushed when the machine cycled while he was following the procedure to remove metal from the press.
Harbin filed an intentional tort claim against the employer. A jury found in his favor, but the trial Court granted the employer’s motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict or a new trial.
Decision: Court of Appeals reverses (3-0).
Court finds that Harbin had presented evidence on each of the intentional tort factors sufficient to support the jury’s verdict. Harbin presented evidence from a safety expert that the machine had been modified to run at a much higher speed, which essentially removed a safety device. Evidence also demonstrated that employer had trained Harbin in unsafe procedure and failed to train employees (including Harbin) in use of proper safety devices.
Court also finds that even though there was no similar injury, the press had only been used in this fashion for two years, and lack of similar injury does not demonstrate lack of employer knowledge of certainty of harm.
Editor’s Comment: Court finds the evidence sufficient to support jury award of punitive damages.