Intentional Tort Limited
Houdek v. ThyssenKrupp Materials N.A., Inc., 134 Ohio St.3d 491, 2012-Ohio-5685 (12/6/12).
Issue: Can an employee establish an intentional tort claim under R.C. 2745.01(A)?
Background: Houdek was injured while working in an aisle where sideloaders (machines similar to forklifts) sped down the aisles. Houdek informed the sideloader operator that he would be working in the aisle, but the operator forgot and the sideloader struck Houdek, causing serious injuries.
Houdek filed an intentional tort suit against the employer. The trial court granted summary judgment for the employer, but the Court of Appeals reversed. The employer appealed.
Decision: Supreme Court reverses.
R.C. 2745.01(A) provides that an employer commits an intentional tort when it acts “with the intent to injure another or with the belief that the injury was substantially certain to occur.” In R.C. 2745.01(B), the legislature defined “substantially certain” as an act “with deliberate intent to cause an employee to suffer an injury.”
The Court states that the legislature, in enacting this statute, intended to permit an intentional tort only when the employer acts with “specific intent” to cause injury. Therefore, the Court finds that “absent a deliberate intent to injure another, an employer is not liable for a claim alleging an employer intentional tort.”
In the present case, the Court finds that even though the evidence shows that the employer placed Houdek in “a potentially dangerous situation”, he cannot recover for intentional tort because there is no evidence that the employer “deliberately intended to injure him.”
Editor’s Comment: The Court’s decision ignores the language actually used by the legislature in the intentional tort statute. The Court does not recognize that the legislature provided two standards for an intentional tort – intent to injure or belief that the injury was substantially certain to occur. The legislature only redefined “belief that the injury was substantially certain to occur” to require “deliberate intent.” The legislature never provided that “intent to injure” which, under the normal legal standards for considering intent does not require evidence of deliberate intent, should be redefined to require deliberate intent. As the Court of Appeals recognized, Houdek did provide evidence that the employer had acted with “intent”, as that term is normally applied in the law.
Justice Pfeifer’s dissenting opinion states “[t]he majority opinion is wrong.” He explains that
An intent to injure can be inferred from the facts and circumstances of a particular case; otherwise, an injured worker would be dependent on an employer’s confession to make his case. Again, R.C. 2745.01(C) states that an intent to injure can be inferred from the “[d]eliberate removal * * * of an equipment safety guard.” In this case, the employer’s intent to injure could also be inferred from its behavior in sending an already-injured Houdek into a dimly lit, narrow, dead-end aisle where a sideloader would be likely to enter, knowing that it was a dangerous situation. Houdek presented enough evidence that a trier of fact could determine that [the employer] intended to injure him.