‘Intentional’ harm can trigger separate lawsuit — Business Management Daily: Free Reports on Human Resources, Employment Law, Office Management, Office Communication, Office Technology and Small Business Tax Business Management Daily
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Employees injured on the job typically have only one legal remedy: workers’ compensation benefits.

But that restriction is blown out of the water if an employee proves that your organization’s actions amounted to “intentional” harm. And that standard can be reached with one dumb move by a supervisor.

The New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Law says that when employees can show intentional harm, they’re able to double dip: receive workers’ comp benefits and file a private lawsuit for their pain and suffering.

Point out that risk, and the following example, to convince top execs and supervisors to make safety a top priority and never cut corners.

Lead the charge to establish a safety committee to encourage a safe workplace.

Recent case: Michael Steigerwalt, a pest-control technician for Terminix, was working a fumigation job when his boss directed him to spray methyl bromide, a highly toxic chemical. The problem: The company didn’t provide Steigerwalt with a respirator.

Steigerwalt inhaled the gas and spent two weeks in a coma. He recovered but still suffered severe neurological damage.

He alleged that management had rejected previous requests for respirators because they were too expensive.

Steigerwalt sued Terminix, alleging the company’s indifference to the danger amounted to an “intentional wrong” for which he should be compensated outside the workers’ comp system.

The federal district court agreed, saying that employees can directly sue their employers for pain and suffering in such egregious cases of intentional harm. The case now goes to trial. (Steigerwalt v. Terminix International, et al., No. 06-CV-1855, DC NJ, 2006)

Final tip: Turn a blind eye to safety and you may end up not only going to court but also facing huge OSHA fines. To review OSHA’s industry standards, go to www.osha.gov (click on “Standards” in right column).

Online resource: For more advice on complying with state workers’ comp law, visit the New Jersey Department of Labor & Workforce Development’s site at www.nj.gov/labor/wc/wcindex.html.  

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