By: Danielle Lorenz and Julian Emerson

In Ohio, employers who pay their workers' compensation premiums are generally provided immunity from negligence actions brought by their own employees because Ohio law provides that workers' compensation benefits are the only available remedy for those injured employees.  However, there was an unresolved issue until recently concerning whether employers who were subcontractors working on a self-insured construction project could be afforded the same immunity for injuries sustained by other workers for different subcontractors on the same self-insured construction project. The Ohio Supreme Court recently addressed this question in Stolz v. J&B Steel Erectors, Inc., Slip Opinion No. 2016-Ohio-1567, and specifically held that enrolled subcontractors on a workers' compensation self-insured construction project are protected from tort claims made by employees of other enrolled subcontractors on that same project.

In Stolz, there was a workplace incident on a workers' compensation self-insured construction project in which the injured worker brought negligence claims against the general contractor and multiple subcontractors in federal court. The issue was whether an injured worker could proceed with negligence claims against multiple enrolled subcontractors on a self-insured construction project or whether the subcontractors and general contractor were immune from such claims based on Ohio’s workers' compensation laws.  In Ohio, employers who comply with Ohio’s Workers’ Compensation Act are not liable to respond in damages at common law or by statute for any injury, death, or occupational disease occurring during a period of insurance as a state funded employer or during a period of self-insurance.

In analyzing the applicability of Ohio’s workers' compensation immunity statute, the Ohio Supreme Court noted that an employer may self-insure workers’ compensation coverage on certain construction projects by covering claims for its own employees and the employees of contractors and subcontractors working on that project. It was also noted by the Court that Ohio’s workers' compensation laws identify the self-insuring general contractor of the project as the employer of all employees working on the project to even include the employees of enrolled subcontractors. Ohio’s workers' compensation laws also provide that an injured worker who has a compensable work comp claim in Ohio is precluded from pursuing common-law or statutory remedies against co-employees for allegedly causing the injury. Therefore, the Court held that Ohio’s workers' compensation laws provide a scheme of statutory immunity to subcontractors working on a self-insured construction project when an employee of another subcontractor is injured on the same project provided that: (1) the subcontractor seeking immunity is enrolled in the self-insured construction project; (2) the other subcontractor employing the injured employee was also enrolled in the self-insured construction project; and (3) the injury itself is compensable under Ohio’s workers' compensation laws.

This decision is very helpful to subcontractors enrolled in plans on self-insured construction projects in Ohio as it clarifies when they can assert immunity for injuries sustained by other employees of subcontractors on the same project. On self-insured construction projects, subcontractors should seek to enroll on the self-insured certificate, this way the probability of being able to raise the immunity defense from negligence claims from employees of other subcontractors rises greatly.

If you would like a full copy of the opinion, or if you have any other questions related to matters of Construction Law or Workers’ Compensation, please feel free to contact one of our statewide practice group members to discuss.

This has been prepared for informational purposes only. It does not contain legal advice or legal opinion and should not be relied upon for individual situations. Nothing herein creates an attorney-client relationship between the Reader and Reminger. The information in this document is subject to change and the Reader should not rely on the statements in this document without first consulting legal counsel. 

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