The Mandolidis case was named for an official misspelling of the surname of James Manolidis, an Elkins Industries sawmill worker injured when his hand came into contact with a 10-inch table saw that didn’t have a safety guard. Manolidis was the lead plaintiff in James Mandolidis, et al. v. Elkins Industries, Inc., an appeal from Randolph County Circuit Court that the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals decided June 27, 1978.
Mandolidis is a landmark case because it greatly expanded a worker’s right to sue an employer, even if the worker was covered by the workers’ compensation program. In the decision, Justice Darrell V. McGraw Jr. said the court recognized ‘‘a distinction between negligence, including gross negligence, and willful, wanton and reckless misconduct.’’ Such misconduct was interpreted as a deliberate intention on the part of the employer. This intention need not involve an actual desire to injure the worker, but rather an awareness of exposing the worker to a risk entailing a high probability of physical injury. In such cases, damages might be sought beyond the compensation provided by the workers compensation program. Such redress was allowed under the original 1913 workers compensation statute but had been restricted in recent decades under a 1936 court decision.
The Mandolidis ruling came after three new justices were seated on the five-member court as a result of the 1976 general election. All three—Darrell V. McGraw, Thomas E. Miller, and the late Sam Harshbarger—were perceived as favorable to workers. The president of the state Chamber of Commerce and other business leaders criticized the ruling and asked the legislature to pass a law to lessen its impact. Governor Rockefeller asked the 1982 legislature to consider a change in the law, but the legislature decided to appoint a study commission which made its recommendation in 1983. That year the Mandolidis bill (HB1201) was enacted, modifying the seven-year old decision. The new law softened the impact of the court decision but provided more rights to workers than prior to Mandolidis.
This Article was written by Tom D. Miller
Last Revised on October 08, 2010
Miller, Tom. Mandolidis Plan in Limelight Early. Huntington Herald-Dispatch, 4/6/1983.