The Ohio Supreme Court changed its own ruling Thursday, deciding that a teen-aged fast-food worker who badly burned himself after violating safety rules should get temporary disability benefits, according to the Associated Press.
Some attorneys had voiced concern about the court's earlier workers' compensation ruling in the case, last December, saying it set a dangerous precedent by denying benefits because the employee was to blame for the accident. David Gross, then 16, was injured in 2003 after cleaning a pressure cooker by boiling water in it at the KFC franchise chicken restaurant where he worked in the Dayton area.
His disability compensation was stopped after he was fired three months following the accident. State claims authorities agreed with the KFC franchise that Gross in effect voluntarily gave up his job by willfully disobeying KFC safety rules.
The earlier Supreme Court opinion found that Gross "was fired because he directly and deliberately disobeyed repeated written and verbal instructions not to boil water in the pressurized deep fryer and injuries followed." Two co-workers who had warned Gross to stop were also burned by scalding water spraying from the cooker, according to court records.
Critics said the court's original ruling was at odds with "no-fault" principles for compensating workers injured on the job.
In what the court acknowledged was an unusual decision to reconsider one of its opinions, the justices ruled 5-2 Thursday that Gross should have continued receiving temporary disability payments because his firing was linked to his workplace injury.
"Although KFC appears justified in firing Gross for violating workplace rules, the termination letter established that his discharge was related to his industrial injury," stated Thursday's opinion, adding that his job loss was involuntary.
The earlier ruling wasn't intended to set a new standard on what's called "voluntary abandonment" of employment, stated the majority opinion, written by Justice Evelyn Lundberg Stratton.