Ohio: Truck Driver’s Termination For Causing Accident in Which He Sustained Injuries Does Not Disqualify Him From TTD Benefits

In State ex rel. Haddox v. Industrial Comm’n, 2013 Ohio 794, 2013 Ohio LEXIS 618 (Mar. 12, 2013), the Supreme Court of Ohio recently affirmed an appellate court’s decision that the state’s Industrial Commission had abused its discretion in finding that a truck driver was not entitled to temporary total disability benefits because he had voluntarily abandoned his employment, where the driver was injured in 2005 in a traffic accident for which he was cited, and the driver was subsequently discharged by the employer since the violation was the driver’s third in one year, causing the driver to be dropped from his employer’s liability insurance policy. Without such insurance coverage, the injured worker could no longer work as a truck driver.

The Industrial Commission initially concluded that he was not eligible for temporary total disability compensation, because his discharge was a voluntary abandonment of employment. A year later, a staff hearing officer concluded that the discharge was not voluntary abandonment under State ex rel. Gross v. Industrial Comm’n, 115 Ohio St.3d 249, 2007 Ohio 4916, 874 N.E.2d 1162.

The court observed the ordinary rule: To qualify for TTD compensation, an injured worker must demonstrate that he or she is medically unable to return to the former position and that the industrial injury is the reason for the loss of earnings. Here the employer contended, however, that the reason for the driver’s loss of earnings was not his injury, but rather his misconduct in causing the accident wherein he sustained the injuries. The court acknowledged that when an employee is fired for misconduct, the dismissal may be deemed a voluntary abandonment of employment “when it arises from the employee’s decision to engage in conduct that he or she knows will result in termination.”

The Supreme Court noted, however, that under its decision in State ex rel. Gross v. Industrial Comm’n, 115 Ohio St.3d 249, 2007 Ohio 4916, 874 N.E.2d 1162, if a claimant is injured by the same misconduct that led to his or her termination, eligibility for temporary total disability compensation is not compromised. Since the driver here was discharged for the same misconduct that caused his industrial injury, the discharge was not tantamount to a voluntary abandonment of employment that precluded TTD compensation.

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