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Lloyd v. Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction

Court of Claims of Ohio

December 22, 2017

DAMON LLOYD Plaintiff
v.
OHIO DEPARTMENT OF REHABILITATION AND CORRECTION Defendant

          Sent to S.C. Reporter 1/5/18

          Richard F. Swope Lee Ann Rabe, Lindsey M. Grant, Assistant Attorneys General

          DECISION OF THE MAGISTRATE

          ROBERT VAN SCHOYCK, Magistrate Judge

         {¶1} Plaintiff, an inmate in the custody and control of defendant, brought this action for negligence arising out of a February 19, 2014 accident in which he was injured while adjusting a window in his dormitory at the Chillicothe Correctional Institution (CCI). The issues of liability and damages were bifurcated and the case proceeded to trial before the undersigned magistrate on the issue of liability. The magistrate recommended judgment in favor of defendant. The court adopted the magistrate's decision and rendered judgment accordingly.

         {¶2} Plaintiff appealed and the Tenth District Court of Appeals issued a decision on May 23, 2017, reversing the judgment and remanding the matter for further proceedings. Lloyd v. Ohio Dept. of Rehab. & Corr., 10th Dist. Franklin No. 16AP-499, 2017-Ohio-2942. The court of appeals held that the court of claims erred in applying the open and obvious doctrine to bar plaintiffs claim, and that the court should have engaged in a comparative negligence analysis. Upon remand, the parties agreed to file briefs setting forth their arguments on the issue of liability, including the issue of comparative negligence, whereupon the case was resubmitted for decision on the issue of liability based upon the record of the trial held on October 21, 2015.

         {¶3} The trial testimony was summarized in the original decision of the magistrate as follows:

{¶2} At trial, plaintiff testified that he is incarcerated on a murder conviction and that he was transferred to CCI from another prison about five years ago. Plaintiff testified that at the time of the accident, he was assigned to the F-2 Dormitory, which he described as a large, two-story building with bunk beds arranged in an open floor plan. Plaintiff testified that he was assigned to a bottom bunk along the west wall of the first floor.
{¶3} Plaintiff testified that there were approximately 30 windows in total on the first floor of the building. As plaintiff described, the windows could be raised and lowered vertically, and they were an older style of window with a counterweight system built into the frame. But, plaintiff explained that in most of the windows the counterweight systems no longer worked, meaning that when the windows were raised they would not stay open on their own. According to plaintiff, the windows were large and the sections that could be raised and lowered were heavy, weighing about 70 to 80 pounds.
{¶4} Plaintiff related that in this dormitory and in other housing units where he had been assigned at CCI previously, where windows would not stay open on their own, inmates would often remove a cup from the chow hall and set it in the windowsill to prop the window open, or they would hold the window up with an improvised hook and string system. As plaintiff explained, the hook and string system involved removing the nylon drawstring from one of the laundry bags that were issued to inmates, removing a metal hook from the spring frame of a bunk bed, and tying the hook to one end of the string; the other end of the string would be fastened to the top of the window frame, and then the hook would be fastened to the bottom of the window to hold the window up. Plaintiff testified that he never heard any CCI staff member tell inmates not to use the hook and string system, but he stated that the staff did come through periodically and retrieve any chow hall cups that were on the windowsills, and he also stated that an inmate could receive a disciplinary ticket for removing a cup from the chow hall.
{¶5} Plaintiff testified that the dormitory did not have air conditioning and that it was common for inmates to open the windows to circulate air. Plaintiff also stated that the building was equipped with a radiant heat system and that there was a radiator along the wall near his bed. According to plaintiff, the weather was unseasonably warm on the morning of February 19, 2014, the radiators were on, and it was hot inside the building, so he and a few other inmates opened some of the windows. Plaintiff testified that when he opened the window near his bed, he used an existing hook and string device to hold it open. Plaintiff, who stated that he served as a construction millwright before going to prison, testified that he knew the window was old and did not have a functioning counterweight system, and he also testified that he had not been directed by anyone to adjust the window, nor did he seek anyone's help in adjusting the window. Plaintiff stated that he concluded it was too drafty to have the window all the way open, so he decided to attach two more hooks and strings onto the original hook and string so that he could leave the window open at a lower height. It was plaintiff's testimony that when he was tying one of the hooks into one of the strings, the original string 'snapped, ' causing the hook he was holding to cut his right index finger to the bone and pierce his right middle finger.
{¶6} Plaintiff recalled that he then went to see Corrections Officer Bryan Netter, who was on duty in the building at that time. According to plaintiff, Netter was helpful and arranged for him to get to the medical department. Plaintiff stated that an inmate also got a bag of ice for him quickly. Plaintiff testified that he was examined promptly by a nurse in the medical department, and that he was transported to an outside hospital for treatment.
{¶7} Inmate Douglas Johnson testified that at the time of the accident he was assigned to the top bunk in the bed next to plaintiff's bed. Johnson stated that he did not actually witness the accident, but he had seen plaintiff attempting to adjust the window just before it happened, apparently by making an extension to the existing hook and string system. Johnson recalled that plaintiff yelled when the accident occurred and that he got up and helped lift the window, which he described as being very heavy, off of plaintiff's fingers.
{¶8} Johnson stated that he had been assigned to the F-2 Dormitory since the beginning of 2013 and had seen other inmates there use the hook and string system to hold windows open, and he stated that he never heard corrections officers tell inmates not to do so. Johnson testified that the counterweights in nearly all the windows in the dormitory no longer worked, and that inmates had put the hook and string devices on about three-quarters of the windows.
{¶9} James David Lethgo testified by way of deposition.[1] (Plaintiff's Exhibit 1.) Lethgo testified that when the accident occurred he was an inmate at CCI and was assigned to the bottom bunk in the bed next to plaintiff's bed. As Lethgo recalled, it was unseasonably warm the day of the accident, the heat was on in the dormitory, and inmates had consequently opened some of the windows. Lethgo related that plaintiff was trying to tie an extension onto the existing hook and string system but one of the strings broke and the window slammed shut. Lethgo ...

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