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Randy Morris v. Department of Transportation

July 27, 2011


Cite as

Morris v. Dept. of Transp.,

The Ohio Judicial Center 65 South Front Street, Third Floor Columbus, OH 43215 614.387.9800 or 1.800.824.8263

Acting Clerk Daniel R. Borchert


{¶1} Plaintiff, Randy Morris, filed this action against defendant, Department of Transportation (ODOT), contending his left rear tire was damaged as a proximate result of negligence on the part of ODOT in maintaining a road reflector on State Route 84 in Madison Township. In his complaint, plaintiff provided a narrative description of his damage incident noting on January 31, 2011, at approximately 6:00 a.m., he was "driving east on State Route 84" when he "hit a metal reflector that was loose from the center of the road." According to plaintiff, the reflector punctured the side wall and damaged the tire. Plaintiff requested damages in the amount of $179.03, the cost of a replacement tire. The $25.00 filing fee was paid.

{¶2} Defendant denied liability in this matter based on the contention that no ODOT personnel had any notice of a loose reflector on SR 84 prior to plaintiff's incident. Defendant located plaintiff's incident at milepost 29.95 on SR 84 in Lake County.

Defendant asserted plaintiff failed to provide any evidence to establish his property damage was attributable to any conduct on the part of ODOT. Furthermore, defendant asserted plaintiff failed to provide any evidence indicating the length of time the road reflector was loose or detached from the roadway surface prior to his January 31, 2011 damage occurrence. Defendant explained SR 84 was regularly maintained in the vicinity of plaintiff's damage incident with ODOT personnel conducting thirty-three (33) maintenance operations on SR 84 in the past six months. Defendant further explained ODOT was performing pothole patching operations on January 31, 2011, the day of plaintiff's incident. Defendant related, "[i]f there was a noticeable defect with any raised or loosened reflector when the other maintenance operations were performed, it would have immediately been repaired."

{¶3} Plaintiff did not file a response.

{¶4} For plaintiff to prevail on a claim of negligence, he must prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that defendant owed him a duty, that it breached that duty, and that the breach proximately caused his injuries. Armstrong v. Best Buy Company, Inc., 99 Ohio St. 3d 79, 2003-Ohio-2573,¶8 citing Menifee v. Ohio Welding Products, Inc. (1984), 15 Ohio St. 3d 75, 77, 15 OBR 179, 472 N.E. 2d 707. Plaintiff has the burden of proving, by a preponderance of the evidence, that he suffered a loss and that this loss was proximately caused by defendant's negligence. Barnum v. Ohio State University (1977), 76-0368-AD. However, "[i]t is the duty of a party on whom the burden of proof rests to produce evidence which furnishes a reasonable basis for sustaining his claim. If the evidence so produced furnishes a basis for a choice among different possibilities as to any issue in the case he fails to sustain such burden." Paragraph three of the syllabus in Steven v. Indus. Comm. (1945), 145 Ohio St. 198, 30 O.O. 415, 61 N.E. 2d 198, approved and followed. This court, as trier of fact, determines questions of proximate causation. Shinaver v. Szymanski (1984), 14 Ohio St. 3d 51, 14 OBR 446, 471 N.E. 2d 477.

{¶5} Defendant has the duty to maintain its highways in a reasonably safe condition for the motoring public. Knickel v. Ohio Department of Transportation (1976), 49 Ohio App. 2d 335, 3 O.O. 3d 413, 361 N.E. 2d 486. However, defendant is not an insurer of the safety of its highways. See Kniskern v. Township of Somerford (1996), 112 Ohio App. 3d 189, 678 N.E. 2d 273; Rhodus v. Ohio Dept. of Transp. (1990), 67 Ohio App. 3d 723, 588 N.E. 2d 864.

{¶6} In order to prove a breach of the duty to maintain the highways, plaintiff must prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that defendant had actual or constructive notice of the precise condition or defect alleged to have caused the accident. McClellan v. ODOT (1986), 34 Ohio App. 3d 247, 517 N.E. 2d 1388. Defendant is only liable for roadway conditions of which it has notice, but fails to reasonably correct. Bussard v. Dept. of Transp. (1986), 31 Ohio Misc. 2d 1, 31 OBR 64, 507 N.E. 2d 1179. However, proof of notice of a dangerous condition is not necessary when defendant actively caused such condition. See Bello v. City of Cleveland (1922), 106 Ohio St. 94, 138 N.E. 526, at paragraph one of the syllabus; Sexton v. Ohio Department of Transportation (1996), 94-13861. Plaintiff has failed to produce any evidence to prove that his property damage was caused by a defective condition created by ODOT or that defendant knew about the particular reflector condition prior to January 31, 2011.

{¶7} Ordinarily, to recover in a suit involving injury proximately caused by roadway conditions including uprooted reflectors, plaintiff must prove that either: 1) defendant had actual or constructive notice of the debris condition and failed to respond in a reasonable time or responded in a negligent manner, or 2) that defendant, in a general sense, maintains its highways negligently. Denis v. Department of Transportation (1976), 75-0287-AD. Plaintiff has not provided any evidence to prove ODOT had actual notice of the loose reflector. Therefore, in order to recover plaintiff must offer proof of defendant's constructive notice of the condition or evidence to establish negligent maintenance.

{¶8} "[C]onstructive notice is that which the law regards as sufficient to give notice and is regarded as a substitute for actual notice or knowledge." In re Estate of Fahle (1950), 90 Ohio App. 195, 197-198, 47 O.O. 231, 105 N.E. 2d 429. "A finding of constructive notice is a determination the court must make on the facts of each case not simply by applying a pre-set time standard for the discovery of certain road hazards." Bussard, at 4. "Obviously, the requisite length of time sufficient to constitute constructive notice varies with each specific situation." Danko v. Ohio Dept. of Transp. (Feb. 4, 1993), Franklin App. 92AP-1183. In order for there to be a finding of constructive notice, plaintiff must prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that sufficient time has elapsed after the dangerous condition appears, so that under the circumstances defendant should have acquired knowledge of its existence. Guiher v. Dept. of Transportation (1978), 78-0126-AD; Gelarden v. Ohio Dept. of Transp., Dist. 4, Ct. of Cl. No. 2007-02521-AD, 2007-Ohio-3047.

{ΒΆ9} Plaintiff has not produced any evidence to indicate the length of time that the road reflector was present on the roadway prior to the incident forming the basis of this claim. Additionally, the trier of fact is precluded from making an inference of defendant's constructive notice, unless evidence is presented in respect to the time that the condition appeared on the roadway. Spires v. Ohio Highway Department (1988), 61 Ohio Misc. ...

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