Intentional Tort Preempted
Talik v. Fed. Marine Terminals, Inc. (3/13/08), 117 Ohio St.3d 496, 2008-Ohio-937.
Issue: Can an employee covered by the federal workers’ compensation act sue the employer for an intentional tort?
Background: Talik worked as a longshoreman. Because of the nature of his job, Talik could pick whether to receive federal or state workers’ compensation benefits. Talik was injured at work and elected to receive benefits under the state workers’ compensation system.
Talik also filed a state common law intentional tort claim against the employer. The common pleas court granted summary judgment for the employer. The Court of Appeals reversed, finding that the federal workers’ compensation act did not preempt the state intentional tort claim. The employer appealed.
Decision: Supreme Court reverses.
The Supreme Court finds that the federal workers’ compensation act preempts a state intentional tort claim. The Court considers two different types of preemption: express preemption and conflict preemption.
Express preemption occurs where Congress has expressly stated that it is preempting state law. The federal workers’ compensation act at issue in this case states that it applies to intentional injuries by third parties, but does not state that it applies to intentional injuries by employers. Therefore, the Supreme Court finds that the statute at issue does not expressly preempt the state intentional tort lawsuit.
A state law can also be preempted if “it stands as an obstacle to the accomplishment and execution of the full purposes and objectives of Congress.” The Court finds that to permit an intentional tort suit would conflict with the purpose of the federal act because that act existed to create a balance between employees and employers which would be altered by permitting an intentional tort suit. The Court also indicates that permitting Ohio employees to proceed with an intentional tort suit would result in an inequitable situation because only some employees covered by the federal act would be able to proceed with an intentional tort suit.
Editor’s Comment: The dissent, written by Justice Pfeifer, points out
Each of the 50 states has enacted its own unique state workers’ compensation system, any one of which can be used to determine liability for an injury pursuant to the LHWCA. Accordingly, it will not offend the LHWCA if a “substantial certainty” intentional tort standard, which according to the majority opinion, at ¶ 32, has been adopted by at least seven other states, is used in Ohio to determine whether an employer committed an intentional tort. I would hold that the LHWCA does not preempt a claim for an employer intentional tort in Ohio.