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Court of Appeals allows employee to seek damages beyond workers compensation benefits

Normally if an employee is injured at work, his sole or "exclusive remedy" against his employer is his statutory workers compensation benefit package (partial wages and complete medical coverage).  The Legislature adopted a package of benefits payable for all injured employees, regardless of fault by employer or employee, as a substitute for "fault"-based complete compensation.  It left fault liability for employers only with respect to intentionally-inflicted injury, but granted limited recovery to everyone injured "on the job."  It was said that the adoption of workers compensation as a scheme was necessary in order to address the "unholy trinity" of employer defenses that defeated virtually every work-related injury:  the fellow servant rule, assumption of the risk and contributory negligence by the injury victim.

In Michigan, the Supreme Court has, in the past couple decades, interpreted the workers compensation immunity for employers to be so all-encompassing that the employer must intend harm to result, in order for it to have liabilty outside the comp system.  Even intentional misfeasance that has a 100% probability of causing employee injury is not enough to render the employer liable:  the insurance-friendly Court wants to see an "intent to harm" in addition to an intent to do the act causing harm where a high probability of harm exists.

A Macomb County trial judge who attempted to follow this stricture ruled that Naum Thomai's attorneys could not engage in active discovery in attempting to investigate Thomai's injury claim.  Thomai was operating a grooving machine that placed grooves in 300 discs per hour for MIBA Hydamechanica Corporation before the employer ordered a maintenance man to modify the machine to produce 600 discs per hour.  The modifications involved removing safety apparatus.  Thomai's arm was amputated above the elbow when his hand got caught in an unguarded spindle with 56 rotating circular blades, after the company ignored his complaints about the modifications to the machine.

The Court of Appeals reversed the trial judge's discovery-limiting orders and the summary disposition it granted to the Defendant, and returned the case to the lower court for a more complete examination of Thomai's claims that the employer knowingly exposed him to certain injury.

Thompson O’Neil, P.C.
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Traverse City, Michigan 49684
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