On March 23, 2010, the Ohio Supreme Court dealt a serious blow to injured workers in Ohio and, at the same time, handed over a huge gift to big business – a gift that corporate Ohio had been aggressively pursuing since 1982. In Kaminski v. Metal and Wire Products Company, the Ohio Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of Ohio Revised Code Section 2745.01, a statute whose primary purpose is to limit access to the courts for civil law suits by workers who have received injuries as a result of egregious conduct by their employers.
So what you say? Courts rule on the constitutionality of laws all the time. Why is this so different? In order to answer that question, you need to understand the history.
In 1982, the Ohio Supreme Court handed down a decision known as Blankenship, and in that case the Supreme Court ruled that there may be injuries sustained by employees in the workplace that are the result of employer misconduct that is so egregious as to exceed the normal scope of employment that gives rise to coverage under Workers’ Compensation for the injured worker and in those instances of egregious conduct by the employer, the Court in Blankenship held that the injured worker could also pursue a civil law suit against the employer seeking an award of damages. And over the last twenty eight years, Big Business in Ohio has been seeking to undo the Blankenship decision and strip injured workers of this right to a civil law suit.
Their tactics were no secret. Promote through huge campaign expenditures the election the right people to positions of power in the three branches of our government that would pass legislation changing the Court’s decision in Blankenship, sign it into law, and then assure that its constitutionality was upheld.
So, in 1986 Ohio Revised Code Section 4123.80 was passed in an effort to restrict injured workers’ access to the courts. In 1991, a differently composed Ohio Supreme Court ruled ORC 4123.80 unconstitutional in Brady v.Safety-Kleen Corp.
In 1993, the General Assembly passed Ohio Revised Code 2745.01, again with the purpose of curtailing injured workers’ access to the courts. In 1994, a differently composed Ohio Supreme Court ruled ORC 2745.01 unconstitutional in State ex rel. Ohio AFL-CIO v. Voinovich.
In 1995, the General Assembly passed yet another version of ORC 2745.01 to limit access to the courts by seriously injured people and in 1999 in the Johnson v. BP Chemicals Inc. case the Ohio Supreme Court, for the third time, ruled the efforts to limit access to civil lawsuits by injured workers unconstitutional. In Johnson the Court said “–.any statute created to provide employers with immunity from liability for their intentional tortious conduct cannot withstand constitutional scrutiny [emphasis supplied].”
So how did Big Business and their friends in the Ohio General Assembly respond? Despite three prior legislative enactments attempting to restrict injured workers’ access to the courts being struck down as unconstitutional and despite the express dictate from the Supreme Court in Johnson, in 2005 the General Assembly enacted yet a another version of ORC 2745.01 again with the specific intent to curtail access to civil law suits against employers by injured workers. And, unfortunately, this time a differently composed Supreme Court has ruled the law constitutional in Kaminski.
The end result? Big Business got what it wanted and injured workers in Ohio will pay the price.
What changed between 1982 and 2010? It was the composition of the Ohio Supreme Court. Presently, there are seven Justices on the Ohio Supreme Court. And all seven are from the same political party. Can you guess which one? As the saying goes, “Just follow the money”.