Court again evaluates survivability of employee's claim that injury was intentionally caused by employer
Normally, an employee cannot sue his employer for negligently-caused, on-the-job injuries. At the turn of the century, most states created workers compensation schemes that provided injured workers with compromised benefits (usually medical and partial wages) in return for the elimination of employer liability. In Michigan, the sole exception to the employer's immunity from negligent conduct arises out of a statutory exception holding employers liable for injuries that they cause intentionally. In previous cases, the Michigan appellate courts have narrowly interpreted this exception to exclude even cases where, statistically evaluated, employee injury was almost certain to result. One line of cases has emerged to define when an employee can sue for "intentional" injuries, and the Court of Appeals addressed the issue in the recent case of Sandra Johnson and Hiram Jones v. Detroit Edison Company.
Plaintiffs were power plant operators, required to dump bottom ash from four industrial boilers. They suffered burns when the ash exploded during this process on April 28 of 2007. They alleged that injury was "certain to occur" under the workers compensation statute, because of defective doors in Boiler 19 that regularly caused "blowout explosions" and minor injuries to plant operators. They argued that Edison's failure to repair the defective doors, despite the continuing history of injuries, documented an intentionally-caused injury to Edison's employees. The Court agreed and upheld the trial court's denial of Edison's Motion for Summary Disposition. It will be up to the jury to determine whether the facts relating to these defective doors add up to an employer intentionally exposing employees to an injury that was "certain to occur."