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Lloyd v. Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Tenth District

May 23, 2017

Damon Lloyd, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, Defendant-Appellee.

         APPEAL from the Court of Claims of Ohio No. 2014-00844

          On brief: Swope and Swope, and Richard F Swope, for appellant. Argued: Richard F. Swope.

          On brief: Michael DeWine, Attorney General, Lee Ann Rabe and Lindsey M. Grant, for appellee. Argued: Lee Ann Rabe.

          DECISION

          TYACK, P.J.

         {¶ 1} Plaintiff-appellant, Damon Lloyd, appeals a judgment of the Court of Claims of Ohio in favor of defendant-appellee, Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. Because the open and obvious doctrine does not apply and because the trial court should have engaged in a comparative-fault analysis, we reverse.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         {¶ 2} Appellant is an inmate in the custody and control of appellee at the Chillicothe Correctional Institution ("CCI"). On February 19, 2014, appellant injured his right hand while adjusting the height of a window in the F-2 dormitory at CCI. There are approximately 30 large windows on the first floor of the F-2 dormitory. It is undisputed that these windows are old. The windows are large and heavy, each weighing approximately 70 to 80 pounds. The windows were designed so that they could be raised and lowered vertically by a counterweight system built into the window frame. The counterweight system allowed the window to stay open at varying heights. However, on the day of appellant's injury, the counterweight system in a large percentage of windows in the F-2 dormitory were broken, thereby preventing the windows from staying open as designed.

         {¶ 3} Inmates living in the F-2 dormitory adjusted the height of the windows with broken counterweight systems by propping them up with objects or by using an improvised hook and drawstring method. The hook and drawstring method involved an inmate removing the nylon drawstring from a laundry bag and removing a metal hook from the spring frame of the inmate's bunk bed. One end of the drawstring would be tied to the hook and the other end would be tied to the top of the window frame. An inmate would then place the hook under the window to hold it up. Appellant testified that inmates commonly used the hook and drawstring method to keep windows open and that prison officials were aware of this practice. Moreover, prison officials never instructed inmates to stop using the hook and drawstring method to keep windows open.

         {¶ 4} On the morning of February 19, 2014, the weather was unseasonably warm and the dorm heat was on. As a result, it was hot inside the F-2 dormitory. Although there were some fans inside the F-2 dormitory, inmates often opened windows to let in fresh air and to help regulate the temperature.

         {¶ 5} Appellant testified that the counterweight system on the window near his bed was broken. Therefore, when he opened the window, he used the improvised hook and drawstring method to hold the window open. However, on this particular day, the hook and drawstring method he was using raised the window higher than the conditions warranted. Appellant decided to lengthen the hook and drawstring by attaching additional hooks and drawstrings so that the window would remain open at lower heights. As he was tying one of the hooks onto one of the drawstrings, the original drawstring holding up the window broke. The window fell on his left hand and the hook he was holding cut the index finger and punctured the middle finger on his right hand. Appellant further testified that to his knowledge the hook and drawstring method for holding a window up had not previously failed.

         {¶ 6} Appellant filed a negligence suit against appellee seeking damages for his injuries. The trial court bifurcated the issues of liability and damages for purposes of trial, and the parties tried the liability portion of the case to a magistrate. In a decision dated February 18, 2016, the magistrate recommended that the trial court enter judgment in appellee's favor. The magistrate found that the danger presented by the window and the hook and drawstring method were open and obvious conditions. Therefore, appellee did not owe appellant any duty under the open and obvious doctrine. In addition, the magistrate found that appellant's own conduct was the sole proximate cause of his injuries.

         {¶ 7} Appellant filed objections to the magistrate's decision. The trial court overruled appellant's objections, adopted the magistrate's decision, and entered judgment in favor of the appellee.

         {¶ 8} Appellant now appeals to this court, assigning ...


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