In Ohio, workers’ compensation benefits are typically awarded on a “no fault” basis. That means an injured worker doesn’t have to prove that the employer did anything wrong to receive benefits. With very limited exceptions, the fact that the injury happened in the course of work is generally sufficient.
While this no-fault system in theory can make it quicker and easier for the injured worker to get medical care and replacement income, it also comes with limits. Workers’ compensation doesn’t allow for compensation for intangibles like pain and suffering, and there are no punitive damages.
That’s true even if the employer was negligent. The exception to this rule is for intentional tort cases where an injured worker must demonstrate that the employer acted with deliberate intent to harm. This is a very high bar that has to be established with specific facts, such as the removal of an equipment safety bar.
What many Ohio workers don’t realize is that there are limited circumstances in which the employer’s actions do affect the amount of compensation available. Injured employees who don’t know about these exceptions may miss out on some of the benefits available to them.
Violation of Specific Safety Requirement (VSSR) Benefits in Ohio
Under Ohio law, a worker who is injured because the employer violated certain safety regulations may be entitled to additional compensation. The additional compensation depends on the circumstances and may be anywhere between 15% and 50% of the weekly benefit.
Needless to say, this can make a significant difference to someone suddenly unable to work and their dependents, or to the family of a worker who was killed on the job.
VSSR benefits are not automatic. To request these benefits, the injured worker must complete a separate form, which will trigger an investigation. Unfortunately, that means that employees who aren’t aware of these special benefits or don’t know how to pursue them may never receive the full compensation available. The employee must also show that:
- The safety violation was specific and applicable,
- The employer was in violation at the time of the injury or exposure, and
- The violation caused or contributed to the injury or illness.
Applying for VSSR Benefits
The process begins with the filing of an Additional Award for Violation of Specific Safety Requirement in a Workers’ Compensation Claim form. (Form IC-8/9) This form doesn’t have to be filed at the same time as the initial claim, but there is a deadline. In the fall of 2020, the time allowed to file an IC-8/9 was reduced to one year.
That filing begins a process that can take months to complete. The employer receives notice and has 30 days to respond. The Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) has a special division to investigate these types of allegations, called the Safety Violations Investigation Unit (SVIU).
The assigned investigator will make contact with both the employer and the employee/employee’s attorney, request information from each, and conduct an independent investigation. The investigation may include an inspection of the employer’s premises.
When the investigation is complete, the investigator files a report, and both parties have the opportunity to review the report and provide additional information. Then, a pre-hearing conference is scheduled. The pre-hearing conference is similar to a pretrial conference in a personal injury case.
One key purpose of the conference is to see whether the parties can reach a settlement. If not, the matter will be scheduled for a hearing. But even that may not be the end of the road–the hearing officer’s decision may be appealed.
Additional Consequences of a VSSR Determination
Securing access to additional benefits is generally the main reason an injured worker will initiate a VSSR investigation. But the process may have other consequences for the employer and may be beneficial to other employees.
If the employer has two or more violations within a two-year period, the Industrial Commission (IC) may impose a penalty of up to $50,000. The IC also may enter a correction order and conduct a follow-up investigation to ensure that the required safety improvements have been implemented.
An Experienced Ohio Workers’ Compensation Attorney Can Help
If you’ve been injured in the workplace and believe that a safety violation caused or contributed to your injury, you may be entitled to additional benefits. But the process of pursuing enhanced benefits can be long and involved. An Ohio workers’ compensation lawyer who is experienced in handling VSSR claims, like Plevin & Gallucci, can help you navigate the process, assemble the most effective documentation possible in response to the investigator’s request, and ensure that your interests are represented at the pre-hearing conference and any hearing.
It’s also important to recognize that VSSR is just one example of how a workers’ compensation claimant may be at a disadvantage if they aren’t entirely familiar with the intricacies of Ohio workers’ compensation law and any possible related claims that may be available.
The sooner you speak with your workers’ comp lawyer, the better opportunity your attorney will have to build the strongest possible case on your behalf. You can schedule a free consultation with Plevin & Gallucci right now by calling 855-4PLEVIN.