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Aliff v. Mar-Bal, Inc.

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Defendant plastics manufacturer had Plaintiff employees use methylene chloride, a solvent, to clean machinery. Defendant knew solvent caused certain health problems when inhaled or absorbed through the skin. Defendant allowed Plaintiffs to use the solvent without proper equipment. After suffering from various health problems, Plaintiffs brought intentional tort suit against Defendant.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    An Employer commits an intentional tort when Employer is certain or substantially certain that an Employee may be injured by a work practice or condition and does not take any action to remedy the situation.

    Facts.

    Mar-Bal, Inc., Defendant, used methylene chloride to clean its machinery. When used in high doses, the solvent caused serious health problems. Defendant was aware that protective equipment and safety precautions were necessary to protect employees from exposure to the solvent. Yet, Defendant allowed employees (Plaintiffs), Aliff family members, to use the solvent to clean their hands. Plaintiffs sued Defendant for intentional tort claim. A motion for directed verdict was granted to the Defendant in trial court. Plaintiffs appealed.

    Issue.

    Whether an Employer commits an intentional tort when Employer knows or should have known that an Employee may be injured by a work practice or condition and does not take any action to remedy the situation.

    Held.

    Yes. An Employer commits an intentional tort when Employer is certain or substantially certain that an employee may be injured by a work practice or condition and does not take any action to remedy the situation. Employer does not need intent to cause harm to the Employee, but being substantially certain that harm will occur is enough. Employee has the burden of proving that Employer knew or was substantially certain that Employee would be injured by the work condition or practice. Here, Defendant Mar-Bal Inc. knew that the use of the solvent resulted in hazardous conditions for some employees who were previously exposed and suffered harm from the use of the chemical. Management of Mar-Bal Inc. knew that certain safety precautions and procedures were necessary to prevent the harm caused by being exposed to the solvent. Even though management was aware of the harm caused by use and exposure of the solvent, safety equipment was not provided to employees, safety precautions were not put in place, and employees continued to work with the solvent. Court held that Plaintiffs met their burden of proof. Trial court judgment was reversed and the case was remanded.

    Discussion.

    The intent to cause harm was not necessary to hold employer liable for the harm employees’ suffered from use of hazardous solvent.



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