Ohio Supreme Court Clarifies Voluntary Abandonment Doctrine

On January 22, 2015, the Ohio Supreme Court discussed an injured worker’s eligibility for temporary total disability compensation after he quit his job on the same day that he reported to work with a note from his doctor restricting him to light duty. State ex rel. Hildebrand v. Wingate Transport, Inc., 141 Ohio St.3d 533.

Mr. Hildebrand sustained a work injury on June 3, 2009. Six days later, he returned to work with a note from his doctor restricting him to modified duty. After being involved in a disagreement with the business owner regarding a car that was loaned to him, Mr. Hildebrand left the premises. The Industrial Commission allowed Mr. Hildebrand’s claim but denied temporary total disability compensation on the basis that he had voluntarily quit on June 9, 2009.

Mr. Hildebrand filed a mandamus action, arguing that he could not have voluntarily abandoned his job based on the principle discussed in State ex rel. Pretty Products v. Indus. Comm. (1996), 77 Ohio St.3d 5, that a claimant “already disabled when separation occurred” cannot abandon a former position of employment. The Court of Appeals rejected Mr. Hildebrand’s argument, finding that Pretty Products did not apply because it involved a discharged employee, not an employee quitting for reasons unrelated to his injury. Mr. Hildebrand appealed.

The Ohio Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Court of Appeals. The Court first noted that temporary total disability compensation requires a causal connection between the inability to work and the work injury. As such, an employee who voluntarily leaves a position of employment is generally barred from receiving this compensation. The Court emphasized that Mr. Hildebrand’s departure from employment was not causally related to his industrial injury. Like the Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court distinguished Pretty Products and its progeny. The Court noted that these cases involve an injured worker who was already receiving temporary total disability compensation when terminated from employment.

This case clarifies and somewhat limits the holding in Pretty Products. When defending against claims for temporary total disability compensation, employers should remember that the voluntary abandonment doctrine can apply to injured workers who quit their jobs for reasons unrelated to their work injuries, even when they have returned to work in a light duty capacity.


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