Legal Guide

You May Not Have to Be Injured On The Job To Sue For Worker’s Compensation

There are many misconceptions about workers' compensation laws. Possibly because they vary from one state to the next, understanding what your rights are as both employee and employer can be confusing at best. In a recent ruling in Ohio, workplace injury does not require proof that the injury was sustained at work for a claim to be accepted.

The Ohio Supreme Court recently ruled in Onderko v. Sierra Lobo, Inc., that for a worker's injury to be covered by workers' compensation they did not need proof of where it happened. An engineering tech at the Sierra Lobo company claimed that he was fired due to retaliation from filing a workers' compensation claim and recently won in the Supreme Court. When he hurt his knee and brought a doctors note saying that he had to engage in only light duties, he filed a workers' compensation claim.

The claim was denied by the Ohio Bureau of Worker’s Compensation because his brain injury lawyer could not produce proof that the injury was sustained while on the job. Not fighting the decision, he had already returned to work. On December 12th, however, he was fired by his employer for filing a false claim for workers' compensation. The company insisted that because he made a false claim, that was grounds for dismissal. Although letting the workers' compensation claim being denied go unnoticed, he was not about to go away silently, being fired for merely filing a claim. So, he decided to file his own complaint alleging that he was fired unfairly for retaliatory reasons, which is not allowable under the Ohio’s Workers' Compensation statute.

The initial case was awarded to the employer because the injury was not sustained while on the job, and, therefore, was filed fraudulently and grounds for dismissal. Moving forward, however, Onderko’s case was subsequently overturned by the Sixth District Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals found that it is not required that a worker be hurt at the workplace for them to file a workers' compensation claim.

The Ohio Supreme Court concurred with the Court of Appeals withholding the decision. They found that nowhere in the statute does it state that a worker is required to prove an injury they file for, has to be incurred while at the job. To file for workers' compensation, you need only prove that you have an injury that negates you from performing your duties, not that the injury happened at work.

In addition, according to the statute, no employee may be dismissed, discharged, or reprimanded, for filing a workers' compensation claim whether it is denied or not. The Courts both found that requiring an employee to prove that an injury resulted at work undermines the entire reason that workers' compensation rules are in place. If employees are afraid to make a claim out of fear of reprisal, then the law can do nothing to protect them from seeking what they believe is rightfully theirs.

If employees are afraid to file a claim because they can’t prove an injury happened at work, it will not allow them to use the statue the way that it was written. Onderko’s lawsuit against Sierra Lobo was upheld for two reasons. The first is that you don’t need to supply proof that an injury was incurred at work to collect workers’ compensation, and, secondly because the employer is not allowed to use retaliatory acts against any employee who files a claim when they believe themselves to be injured.

The potential for both employees and employers in the case is huge. Due to the ruling, it gives employees more liberty to file claims for workers' compensation, which can lead to fraudulent claims and may increase the employer's risk. At the same time, it disallows employers to do anything against an employee who files a false claim of injury. An employer may not have any rights against an employee who tries to file a fraudulent claim against an employer's workers' compensation insurance.

Although being illegal and subject to criminal penalties, filing a false workers' compensation claim can not put your job in jeopardy, whether it is true or not. Although many assume that an injury has to be witnessed and the location proved by the employee, that is simply not the case, especially now that a ruling has been made in the Supreme Court.

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