Law School Case Brief
Beauchamp v. Dow Chem. Co. - 427 Mich. 1, 398 N.W.2d 882 (1986)
In a workers' compensation case, Michigan applies the substantial certainty test, which provides that an intentional tort is not limited to consequences that are desired. If the actor knows that the consequences are certain, or substantially certain, to result from his act, and still goes ahead, he is treated by the law as if he had in fact desired to produce the result. It does not matter whether the employer wishes the injury would not occur or does not care whether it occurs. If the injury is substantially certain to occur as a consequence of actions the employer intended, the employer is deemed to have intended the injuries as well.
Plaintiff-appellee employee was employed for two years as a research chemist. He applied for workers' compensation benefits, alleging impairment of normal bodily functions caused by chemical exposure to tordon ("agent orange'). The employee then commenced a lawsuit suit against defendant-appellant employer, a chemical company, on claims of intentional infliction of emotional distress and breach of contract due to the alleged chemical exposure. The employee's wife joined in the lawsuit claiming loss of consortium. Two claims survived an appeal in the lower appellate court: one tort-based claim and one in contract. The employer sought further appellate relief.
Did the exclusivity provision of the state workers' compensation act preclude a common-law civil action by an employee who, following his exposure to agent orange, alleged that his employer breached a contractual promise to provide safe working conditions?
The Supreme Court of Michigan ruled that plaintiff-appellee employee's claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress could stand but that any other claims should be dismissed due to the exclusive remedy provisions of the workers' compensation law. First, the Court held that the exclusivity provision of the workers' compensation act precludes a common-law civil action by an employee who alleges that his employer breached a contractual promise to provide safe working conditions. The Court hold that the"all-inclusive character of the exclusiveness principle resulted in barring actions for covered injuries even though the plaintiff casts his action in the form of a breach of some kind of contract." The Court concluded that the contract claim was barred by the exclusive remedy provision. Next, the Court reversed the trial court's decision dismissing Karen Beauchamp's loss of consortium complaint.
However, the Court allowed the employee to proceed to trial on his intentional tort claim. In most states, the exclusivity provision of the workers' compensation act does not preclude a civil action by an employee alleging an intentional tort by the employer. The Court adopted the substantial certainty standard. The "substantial certainty" line of cases defines intentional tort more broadly. The Court stressed that substantial certainty should not be equated with substantial likelihood.
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