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Woodrow v. Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction

Court of Claims of Ohio

September 26, 2017


          Sent to S.C. Reporter 10/23/17



         {¶1} This case arises from a July 21, 2013 accident in which plaintiff, an inmate in the custody and control of defendant, fell and was injured while adjusting a window at the Chillicothe Correctional Institution (CCI). 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} It was established during the liability phase of trial that the accident occurred while plaintiff climbed up a wall above the top of the recreation cage in the segregation unit at CCI and that plaintiff fell backward and landed on the metal covering atop the cage. At the damages phase of trial, plaintiff testified that he was at least five feet above the cage when he fell. Plaintiff stated that he remembers landing on top of the cage but that he apparently lost consciousness for a moment and then regained it while people were attending to him. Plaintiff further stated that he vomited around that time.

         {¶3} Plaintiff recalled inmates and corrections officers carrying him off the top of the cage and putting him on a bench. Plaintiff testified that his back and his head hurt, that he continued to vomit, and that he was bleeding from the right elbow where a piece of metal atop the cage had punctured his arm by a half inch or less. Someone gave him a towel to stop the bleeding on his arm, plaintiff stated. Plaintiff recalled a nurse coming to the segregation unit and asking him what happened, and that after he explained it to her, she and the corrections officers went aside and talked amongst themselves, whereupon she came back and told him he would be taken to the infirmary only because of the wound on the elbow. Plaintiff testified that he was put in a cart and transported to the infirmary, where he received a tetanus shot and was then sent back to the segregation unit. Plaintiff stated that he was not given any medication, that his lower back and neck hurt, and that he remained awake and nauseous all night, afraid to go to sleep.

         {¶4} According to plaintiff, when the first shift corrections officer arrived in the unit the next morning and learned about the accident, he sent plaintiff back to the infirmary. Plaintiff stated that a nurse looked at him but provided no treatment and sent him back to the segregation unit. At this point, plaintiff stated, he remained in pain and did not know what to do. Plaintiff explained, though, that the warden subsequently came through the segregation unit while making rounds and he was able to get the warden's attention and tell him what happened. By plaintiffs account, the warden seemed surprised that he had not heard about the accident and he ordered that plaintiff be sent to the infirmary and provided treatment. Plaintiff stated that when he went to the infirmary this time, he was given an x-ray of the skull and was told that he showed signs of having a concussion. Plaintiff related that he was sent back to the segregation unit again, still feeling pain in his neck, back, and head. Plaintiff acknowledged that in his visits to the infirmary at CCI, he did receive some treatment from nurses, but in his opinion the treatment was inadequate.

         {¶5} Early the next morning, plaintiff testified, he was transferred to the Noble Correctional Institution (NCI). Plaintiff acknowledged that in the following weeks he received medical attention several times at NCI, including multiple doctor visits, but from his perspective he did not get treatment that he felt was appropriate. Plaintiff admitted that in addition to the x-ray he underwent on July 24, 2013, medical records reflect that he received another skull x-ray on August 1, 2013, thoracic and lumbar spine x-rays on August 7, 2013, thoracic spine and elbow x-rays on September 6, 2013, and a cervical spine x-ray on September 13, 2013, none of which identified any fractures. (Defendant's Exhibit C.) According to plaintiff, however, he felt that he should have been given an MRI, which he never received. To the extent that the records from the x-rays show that they were interpreted as indicating mild scoliosis in the thoracic spine and mild degenerative changes in the cervical spine, plaintiff testified that no one had ever diagnosed him with these conditions prior to the accident, and he testified that he never had any back problems at all before the accident.

         {¶6} Plaintiff testified about submitting an Informal Complaint Resolution form on September 9, 2013, in which he complained that a doctor who examined him at NCI apparently thought he might have a vision problem, whereas plaintiff thought that he should have undergone an MRI or additional x-rays. (Plaintiffs Exhibit 15.) Plaintiff admittedly complained to NCI medical personnel about having blurry vision at some point and underwent an eye exam which resulted in a finding that his blurry vision was caused by an eyesight problem, but he stated that he never had any such problems before the accident. Plaintiff also testified about an Informal Complaint Resolution form that he submitted on September 25, 2013, complaining that he had been denied an MRI. (Plaintiffs Exhibit 16.) Plaintiff stated that on October 2, 2013, he sent a "kite" (a handwritten form of institutional correspondence) to the Health Care Administrator at NCI complaining about having been prescribed rubber band exercises for his back, which were painful, rather than an MRI. (Plaintiffs Exhibit 13.) Plaintiff further stated that on October 17, 2013, he submitted another kite to the Health Care Administrator at NCI complaining about medications he had been prescribed for high blood pressure and migraine headaches, which he felt were not applicable to his symptoms. (Plaintiffs Exhibit 14.) Plaintiff admitted that he received responses to his complaints, whether he agreed with them or not, including explanations that his treatment plan was ordered by the doctor, that he needed to start out slowly with the rubber band exercises and build strength, and that a collegial review panel had reviewed his case and determined that an MRI was not warranted, and he was also scheduled for follow-up visits with the doctor. According to plaintiff, however, in spite of the medical attention that he received at NCI, he felt that overall nothing was really done for him.

         {¶7} The pain and stiffness in his neck eventually went away, plaintiff stated, and although the head and back pain persisted, the level of pain decreased somewhat over time. Plaintiff related that he served out his sentence and was released after about a year and a half at NCI, at which time he still suffered from headaches and low back pain. According to plaintiff, when he returned home to Gallipolis he had difficulty obtaining medical attention on account of not having health insurance, but there was a physician he was able to see a couple of times who performed tests and prescribed some kind of medication for him. Plaintiff described getting some temporary relief from the medication but that the underlying problems remained.

         {¶8} About one year after being released from NCI, plaintiff stated, he was arrested and jailed in Meigs County for about seven months. Plaintiff testified that the pain in his head would come and go and was intense when it would happen, while the lower back pain was more constant. Plaintiff stated that he got some medical attention in the jail, including some medication which was ineffective for relieving his pain, and that he was scheduled to undergo an MRI and a CAT scan, but before the tests could be performed he was convicted on a felony charge and conveyed to defendant's custody. Plaintiff related that he was admitted into defendant's Correctional Reception Center (CRC) and that he sought medical attention there but nothing was done for him. Plaintiff testified that defendant transferred him to NCI in 2016 and that he had been there for about one year at the time of trial. Plaintiff testified that he is not taking any medication and that he still feels that he is not getting appropriate care. Plaintiff described the present symptoms that he attributes to the accident as intense low back pain, slightly below his belt line, in both sides of the back, and also headaches, which are more problematic to him than the back pain.

         {¶9} Rayma Jensen, R.N. testified by way of deposition. (Plaintiffs Exhibit 17.) Jensen has worked for defendant at CCI since 2009, and at the time when the accident occurred she probably served as a Nurse I assigned to an "ER" role in the infirmary, she stated. Jensen testified that on the evening when the accident took place she was summoned to the segregation unit to examine plaintiff. Jensen testified that she vaguely recalled the encounter, at which time she believes plaintiff was seated on a bench or chair, but that she filled out a Medical Exam Report to document what occurred. (Plaintiff s Exhibit 7.)

         {¶10} Jensen stated that, according to what she wrote in the Medical Exam Report, plaintiff told her that he fell and hurt his back and sustained a puncture wound to his arm. The Medical Exam Report shows that Jensen measured plaintiffs vital signs and his pupils, which were normal, and determined that he was alert and oriented, she stated. Jensen stated that she documented a small hole in the right arm below the elbow with minimal bleeding, which she cleaned and applied ointment to before covering it with a bandage. Jensen also noted a small knot on the back of the head which she advised plaintiff to apply ice to, she stated. Jensen stated that she did not note any discoloration in the lower back where plaintiff complained of pain, but she acknowledged that bruises do not typically appear immediately after an accident. Jensen testified that she apparently transported plaintiff to the infirmary on a cart and set up a referral for him to see the doctor during "sick call" hours, but that she is not personally aware of any other treatment plaintiff received. When questioned about a July 21, 2013, doctor's order by a Dr. Akhtar, Jensen testified that it appears to reflect that the doctor gave an order over the telephone to another nurse that night for plaintiff to be given a tetanus shot. Plaintiffs medical chart shows that he was transferred from CCI to NCI on July 25, 2013, Jensen testified.

         {¶11} Nicole Estep, R.N. testified by way of deposition. (Plaintiffs Exhibit 18.) Estep, who stated that she has been employed with defendant for 10 years as a nurse at CCI, related that she prepared a Medical Exam Report during an examination that she performed on plaintiff on July 22, 2013, at 9:40 a.m. (Plaintiffs Exhibit 12.) According to what she wrote in the Medical Exam Report, Estep stated, plaintiff complained of headaches and back pain which he attributed to falling the day before. Estep stated that she does not recall if she examined plaintiffs head, but that the only visible injury she noted was a small abrasion on the right elbow. Estep further stated that this was the only time she saw plaintiff. Estep stated that she does not have any knowledge about the x-rays that plaintiff underwent, but she explained that they can be performed at CCI.

         {¶12} Vanessa Sawyer, R.N. testified that she is employed with defendant as the Health Care Administrator at NCI, where she has worked for approximately 21 years, and that her job entails overseeing all aspects of the ...

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