Tenth District Court of Appeals Finds Potential Intentional Tort Action against Employer That Terminated Health Insurance Benefits

Employers should be mindful in Ohio that the employer/employee relationship exposes them to many different risks. For instance, in the recent case of Tchankpa v. Ascena Retail Group, 2016-Ohio-8354, 10th District Court of Appeals (Dec. 22, 2016), the Tenth District Court of Appeals ruled that if an employer acts in bad faith in terminating medical coverage of an injured employee, knowing it would cause harm to the employee, an intentional tort action can arise.

In Tchankpa, an employee who was allegedly injured during a work related activity did not initially file a workers’ compensation claim. Instead, he pursued treatment under his employer sponsored health insurance. When the insurance carrier began to question the underlying facts of the injury and denied treatment, the employee filed a workers’ compensation claim. His employer disputed the claim and the employee then found himself in a position where neither his health insurance nor his employer would pay for his treatment. As a result, the employee filed an intentional tort action under Ohio Revised Code Section 2745.01 alleging that his employer acted in bad faith in disputing his workers’ compensation claim and failing to support his efforts to seek treatment under his health insurance.

The trial court initially dismissed the action for failure to state a claim. However, the Court of Appeals vacated that finding and ruled that there were sufficient facts alleged in the complaint to support an action under the intentional tort statute (ORC 2745.01). The court was persuaded that the facts set forth in the complaint supported an allegation that the employer attempted to manipulate both the workers’ compensation system and its health insurance carrier to avoid any responsibility for payment for treatment for the injured worker.

It will be interesting to see if this case is appealed to the next level and accepted by the Supreme Court. One of the judges in her dissent argued that there were no facts actually alleged in the complaint that would support a finding that the employer was deliberately trying to avoid payment for the Plaintiff’s treatment. However, right now, employers should be careful when they dispute a workers’ compensation claim to review if coverage for the employee under their health insurance policies is also denied. That kind of inconsistent result could eventually lead to litigation for the employer.

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