Travis v. Dreis and Krump Manufacturing Company
453 Mich. 149 (1996)

Facts:

  • Two cases were consolidated:
    • (1) Aimee Sue Travis operated a machine that a history of “double-cycling,” meaning it would cycle twice although the button was pushed only once. The tool room supervisor advised Travis’ supervisor to shut it down, but he refused. Travis ended up having a couple fingers removed in an accident.
    • (2) Stanislaw Golec was using a tractor to load scrap metal into a furnace for smelting. The tractor didn’t have a splashguard, and Golec didn’t have any protective gear besides a helmet. Despite a minor explosion that occurred earlier in the night, Golec’s supervisor told him to return to work. Plaintiff alleged that defendant was aware that the scrap was damp and that aerosol cans were present in the scrap, and that scrap that is wet or that contains closed aerosol cans could lead to an explosion if placed in the furnace. After a huge explosion later that night, Golec suffered severe burns to 30% of his body.
  • Both plaintiffs argued that the intentional tort exception to workers’ comp claims applied, thereby allowing them to sue their employers in tort.
  • An employee’s exclusive remedy for a personal injury or occupational disease is the recovery permitted under the Worker’s Disability Compensation Act. The one exception to this recovery scheme is when an employer commits an intentional tort. Subsection 131(1) provides:
    • “The right to the recovery of benefits as provided in this act shall be the employee’s exclusive remedy against the employer for a personal injury or occupational disease. The only exception to this exclusive remedy is an intentional tort. An intentional tort shall exist only when an employee is injured as a result of a deliberate act of the employer and the employer specifically intended an injury. An employer shall be deemed to have intended to injure if the employer had actual knowledge that an injury was certain to occur and willfully disregarded that knowledge.

History:

  • The trial courts in both cases granted the employers’ motion for summary judgment – the claims were barred by the exclusive remedy doctrine.
  • The court of appeals reversed both cases.

Issue:
Whether the facts alleged by the plaintiffs are sufficient as a matter of law to state a question for the jury regarding liability within the intentional tort exception of the WDCA.

Holding:

  • For Travis, no.
  • For Golec, yes.

Reasoning:

  • For Travis:
    • The employer did not have knowledge that an injury was certain to occur:
      • Plaintiff was not required to confront a continually operating dangerous condition. The press double cycled only intermittently.
      • The press cycled so slowly that no one had ever been injured when the press double cycled previously.

Rule: For intentional tort exception to workers’ compensation exclusivity to apply, employer must have made conscious choice to injure employee and have deliberately acted or failed to act in furtherance of that intent; statute then allows employer’s intent to injure to be inferred if employer had actual knowledge that injury was certain to occur, under circumstances indicating deliberate disregard of that knowledge.