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Plaintiff v. Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction

Court of Claims of Ohio

March 6, 2017


          Sent to S.C. Reporter 6/23/17

          Richard F. Swope

          Timothy M. Miller 6480 East Main Street, Suite 102 Assistant Attorney General


          ROBERT VAN SCHOYCK, Magistrate Judge

         {¶1} Plaintiff, an inmate in the custody and control of defendant, brought this action alleging that on February 15, 2013, a corrections officer at the Franklin Medical Center (FMC) pushed plaintiffs wheelchair in a negligent manner and injured plaintiff. The issues of liability and damages were bifurcated, trial was held on the issue of liability, and the magistrate recommended judgment in favor of plaintiff. The court adopted the magistrate's decision and entered judgment accordingly. The case then proceeded to trial on the issue of damages.

         {¶2} As was previously established during the liability phase of trial, when the corrections officer pushed plaintiffs wheelchair, plaintiffs left arm and hand struck a door and were pinched between the door and wheelchair, and plaintiff was also abruptly jerked about in the wheelchair. It was also established during the liability phase of trial that plaintiff was at FMC due to pre-existing medical issues, including back and neck problems.

         {¶3} At the damages phase of trial, plaintiff explained that he had been experiencing chronic pain in his lower back, neck, and right side long before the incident at FMC. Plaintiff, who stated that he has been in defendant's custody since 1994, testified that some of those symptoms manifested after he was struck by a golf cart at the Warren Correctional Institution (WCI) in 2009. According to plaintiff, he started to have some difficulty walking after that incident. Plaintiff recalled that at some point after the golf cart incident he was diagnosed with degenerative disc disease. Plaintiff stated that his physical condition worsened in 2010 as a result of injuries he sustained in an altercation with an employee at WCI. Plaintiff testified that he spent the next 16 months in "the hole" at WCI, during which time he suffered constant back and neck pain, numbness in his legs, severe headaches, and bed sores. Afterward, plaintiff stated, defendant transferred him to the Ross Correctional Institution (RCI).

         {¶4} Plaintiff related that he received a medical evaluation when he arrived at RCI and was subsequently placed in the general population. Plaintiff stated that he was having back and neck pain at that time, though, and the back pain was spreading down his spine, and after he complained about having difficulty walking long distances he was placed in a segregation unit.

         {¶5} Plaintiff explained that after about six months at RCI, he was transferred to the Toledo Correctional Institution (ToCI). At ToCI, plaintiff recounted, he received an evaluation by a Dr. Morris, who ordered an MRI and other tests, and also prescribed medication for management of his pain. Plaintiff testified that he was also issued a wheelchair, and that through the medication and use of the wheelchair he found some relief from his symptoms. Nevertheless, plaintiff stated, he still had pain and numbness in his right side, as well as neck pain and significant back pain. Plaintiff testified that a Dr. Pine at ToCI eventually arranged for him to be conveyed to FMC for further evaluation and to undergo physical therapy.

         {¶6} Jeff Matthaes, R.N. testified that he is employed with defendant as the Health Care Administrator at FMC and that he has worked for defendant since 1997. Matthaes described his responsibilities at FMC, and he also explained different aspects of defendant's medical record-keeping system. Matthaes stated that he never provided any nursing care to plaintiff and does not have first-hand knowledge about plaintiff, but he reviewed plaintiffs medical records and offered explanatory testimony.

         {¶7} Matthaes provided testimony about a General Evaluation form dated September 18, 2012, approximately five months before the incident at issue in this case, and among other things it indicated that plaintiff had longstanding lower back pain which, "with activity, " increased to a 10 on a scale of 1 to 10, and plaintiff also was noted at that time to have muscle atrophy with leg weakness. (Defendant's Exhibit C.) Matthaes authenticated documentation showing that plaintiff was admitted to FMC on January 22, 2013, and that at the time of his admission it was noted that his medical history included diagnoses of degenerative disc disease and a herniated disc. (Defendant's Exhibit D.) As Matthaes explained, certain baseline data may be collected when an inmate is admitted to FMC, and in the case of plaintiff this data included his back and neck pain levels, which were noted to be sharp and to intermittently reach 10 on a scale of 1 to 10 when walking, and 5 on a scale of 1 to 10 when sitting. (Defendant's Exhibit D.)

         {¶8} Plaintiff recounted that soon after arriving at FMC he started attending sessions with a physical therapist, Katie Coleman, who put him through a course of therapy that included range of motion tests, strength tests, traction, having him ambulate with a walker, and assessing his pain levels. Plaintiff stated that he cooperated and got into a routine with the physical therapy, but his back pain persisted. As plaintiff recalled, Coleman prepared documentation on February 8, 2013, to discharge him from the physical therapy and assess the level of assistance that he would require with mobility and other daily activities. (Plaintiff's Exhibits 14 & 15.) Coleman indicated that the reason she discharged plaintiff was that he had reached the maximum functional benefit of the physical therapy. Coleman also indicated that plaintiff was to have a wheelchair for mobility at distances over 100 feet, as well as a wheeled walker, apparently for shorter distances. Plaintiff testified that he agreed with what Coleman wrote about his pain level at that time, rating the lower back pain as 4-5 on a scale of 1 to 10 and cervical pain as 1-2 on a scale of 1 to 10, but also noting that when he ambulated short distances his lower back pain was 8 on a scale of 1 to 10; in addition, Coleman noted that it was recommended to plaintiff how he could improve his strength and range of motion, and that he was recommended to use ice or a hot pack as needed for pain relief.

         {¶9} Plaintiff testified that his pain levels fluctuated while at FMC before the February 15, 2013 incident. Indeed, Matthaes authenticated numerous medical records, including many nursing assessment forms prepared every shift by the attending nurses, which demonstrate that plaintiff complained at times of back pain as high as 8 on a scale of 1 to 10, and with some frequency he rated it at least as a 4 or 5; additionally, he reported pain at times in other locations, including the legs, hip, and right shoulder. (Defendant's Exhibits E & F.)

         {¶10} On the date of the incident, plaintiff recalled, he had pain in his back, neck, and legs, but he wanted to go out in the hallway and perform some exercise as he had been instructed to by the medical staff. Plaintiff testified that when he came out of his room in his wheelchair and was subsequently pushed back in the room by Corrections Officer Marvin Stanback, it scared him because he felt like he was going to fall out of the wheelchair. Plaintiff stated that he tried to brace himself in the wheelchair and had his left hand on the side of the wheelchair, but as Stanback pushed him back into the room the door closed against him, striking his left side and crushing his finger into the wheelchair. According to plaintiff, his finger hurt, but he also felt pain all throughout his body and he was in a state of shock. Plaintiff testified that Corrections Officer Candace Jordan proceeded to lock his door, and that after he pushed a call button and summoned a nurse, he could hear Jordan tell the nurse that he was fine. Plaintiff also testified that the nurse came back later to check on him, but that he could see a different corrections officer shaking his head as if to intimidate plaintiff into not mentioning anything to the nurse. Plaintiff stated that he eventually did speak with a nurse that evening ...

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