Court Rejects $2,000 Settlement for Potential $69,554 Safety Violation

Frank Ferreri

Columbus, OH (WorkersCompensation.com) – When an Ohio worker experienced an injury due to a safety violation under the Buckeye State’s administrative code, a settlement the worker reached with company drew rebuke.

Because the potential claim for the violation at issue in Zabrana Industries Inc. v. Hayes, No. 19AP-71 (Ohio Ct. App. 11/05/20) ranged from $20,866 to $69,554, the court rejected the company’s $2,000 settlement offer to the worker.

Safety Violations

The worker experienced a “severe injury” to his right hand when it was caught in a punch press on the job. He applied to Ohio’s industrial commission for benefits, citing the company’s violation of a specific safety regulation.

A hearing officer of the commission found that the company failed to comply with a state regulation that requires a guard on the machine in question that protects against accidental injury. Because the violation and the injury were “serious” in the hearing officer’s view, the he awarded additional compensation.

Before the hearing officer finalized his order, the company and the worker reached a settlement under which the worker would receive a lump sum of $2,000. The hearing officer did not approve the settlement as “appropriate” and rejected the amount as “neither fair nor equitable.”

The company took the case to court, seeking an order that would vacate the commission’s decision. In turn, the court sent the case to a magistrate, who determined that the commission acted within its authority to reject the settlement.

In response, the company objected to the magistrate’s decision in the appeals court.

Under Ohio law, hearing officers may determine whether a settlement of significant claims regarding worker safety are fair and equitable.

Fairness

In this case, the court agreed with the magistrate that the hearing officer applied “the plain language o the rule” in deciding that the $2,000 settlement was not appropriate.

The court rejected the company’s argument that the hearing officer wasn’t allowed to consider fairness or the regulation’s goal to promote safety when determining whether a settlement was “appropriate.”

“Words of an administrative rule are to be given their plain and ordinary meaning,” the court explained.

Ultimately, the court upheld the magistrate’s conclusions against the settlement.

“The commission staff hearing officer conducted a hearing and disapproved as inappropriate the proposal that … contemplated a payment of $2,000 on what he saw as a much more significant specific safety requirement claim,” the court reasoned. “[The company] does not provide us with any persuasive argument for why it has a clear legal right to have that order set aside or why the commission has a clear legal duty to approve the proffered settlement.”

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