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Perry v. Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction

Court of Claims of Ohio

April 19, 2019


          Sent to S.C. Reporter 6/14/19



         {¶1} Plaintiff, an inmate in the custody and control of defendant at the Pickaway Correctional Institution, brings this action for negligence. Plaintiffs claim arises out of an incident where he sustained an injury to his hand while operating a drill press for the Ohio Penal Industries (OPI). The issues of liability and damages were bifurcated for trial, and the case proceeded to trial on the issue of liability.

         {¶2} At trial, plaintiff testified that on April 10, 2017, he was assigned to work in the OPI shop at the Warren Correctional Institution. Plaintiff explained that prior to entering prison, he held jobs in the food service industry and warehousing, but he had never operated a drill press prior to working in the OPI shop.

         {¶3} Regarding the training that he received, plaintiff testified that he participated in two training sessions. The first session consisted of an inmate reading the rules and policies of the shop and a discussion of safety lead by one of defendant's staff members. Plaintiff was then handed paperwork to complete, which consisted of signing documentation demonstrating that he was aware of the shop rules and policies. Plaintiff denied being informed that he should not wear gloves while operating the drill press, although he acknowledged that he was aware that the shop policies state that gloves are not to be worn while operating the machines. Plaintiff testified that the second training session to occur consisted of another inmate demonstrating the operation of the drill press by showing him how to start the machine, how to move the drill up and down, and how to move the drill bit. Plaintiff asserted that he was advised to avoid excessively using the stop button on the drill press due to a short.

         {¶4} Plaintiff testified that several weeks before the accident, he had a conversation with Stephen Malone about hot metal shavings from the drill press burning his hands while he operated the drill press. Plaintiff explained that he wanted something to protect his hands from the hot metal shavings because he had to hold the metal close to the drill. According to plaintiff, Malone responded by issuing him a pair of leather gloves and stated that he could wear them. Plaintiff asserts that his supervisors in the OPI shop saw him using the gloves on multiple occasions while operating the drill press.

         {¶5} Plaintiff recalls that on July 6, 2017, he reported to work in the OPI shop. Plaintiff testified that he was assigned to drill holes in a metal tube intended to be part of a custom metal table. Plaintiff recalled that he began working at 8:00 a.m., had a lunch break, and then continued working in the afternoon. Plaintiff stated that Malone was responsible for issuing equipment and tools from the tool room and that after the lunch break, he issued plaintiff a drill bit, a key to the drill press, a protractor, a crescent wrench, and a pair of leather gloves. Plaintiff added that no one told him that he could not use the gloves while operating the machine. Plaintiff acknowledged cotton gloves were available to all inmates to carry objects around the shop.

         {¶6} Plaintiff stated that he had been assigned to train an inmate named Guy Perry who was watching him operate the drill press at the time of the accident. Plaintiff estimated that on that day, he drilled 100 holes prior to the accident in this case and drilled perhaps thousands of holes with the drill press before that. According to plaintiff, shortly before the accident occurred, Philip Bush walked by and told him to wear his safety glasses; plaintiff then continued drilling holes. Plaintiff stated that he used his right hand to operate the lever and a vice was used to hold the metal tube in place. Plaintiff explained that he was required to use his left hand to hold onto the back of the piece that was drilled and that his hand was right next to where the drill bit was contacting the metal. Plaintiff testified that he lowered the drill onto the metal, completed the hole and raised the drill bit. Plaintiff asserted that while raising the drill, his glove snagged on the drill bit and his left hand wrapped around the drill. Plaintiff used his other hand to hit the stop button. Plaintiff states that he then freed his hand and went to tell Malone about the accident. Plaintiff subsequently received medical attention in the infirmary.

         {¶7} Plaintiff testified that he later learned that the drill press was missing the safety guard that surrounds the drill bit and is designed to prevent objects from contacting the revolving drill. Plaintiff asserted that he was present in the OPI shop two weeks after the incident when an inmate named Johnny Walker put the safety guard back on the drill press. Nevertheless, plaintiff did not mention in his informal complaint resolution (ICR), which was written two months after the accident, that the safety guard was missing on the day of the incident. Plaintiff acknowledged that he received a response to an ICR that essentially said the accident was his fault for failing to keep his hand away from the moving parts of the drill and that there was video footage supporting that conclusion. Plaintiff stated that he requested to view the video footage, but it was never shown to him.[1]

         {¶8} Stephen Malone testified that on July 6, 2017, he was employed by defendant at WCI in the OPI shop. Malone stated that his duties included among other things issuing equipment to the inmates. Malone confirmed that he issued plaintiff a pair of leather gloves but advised that the gloves are not to be worn during the operation of the drill press. Malone stated that he is aware of the policy prohibiting gloves while operating the machines in the OPI shop. Malone asserted that he did not instruct plaintiff to wear gloves while operating the drill press and that he was unaware that plaintiff was wearing gloves while operating the drill press. Regarding training, Malone testified that inmates undergo orientation, which consists of an inmate reviewing policies and procedures and a concluding speech by Mr. Bossy. Malone signed plaintiffs orientation paperwork. As far as training on a specific piece of equipment, Malone assigns an inmate to train another inmate on the machines. Malone stated that he was in the tool room issuing equipment after the lunch break when plaintiff informed him about the accident. Malone believed that he was present for photos that were taken six months after the incident.

         {¶9} Phillip Bush testified that he has been employed by defendant at WCI for 29 years and that on July 6, 2017, he was the OPI manager, a position he has held for the previous 14 years. According to Bush, the OPI shop is a 33, 000-square foot workshop and that the Dayton drill press is one of the diverse types of equipment in the shop. Bush asserted that the supervisor of the shop, Malone, continually monitors the floor by among other things making rounds, checking on tools and chemicals, and checking on shipments. Bush added that there is no requirement that Malone personally watch an inmate perform his duties. Bush explained that it is his responsibility to ensure that Malone is performing his duties. Bush stated that he ensures that inmate training takes place and that training documents are completed, but he does not personally train the inmates.

         {¶10} Bush stated that he did not witness the accident involving plaintiff, but asserted that he did walk by plaintiff prior to the accident. Bush recalled that he was in his office when the accident occurred. Bush asserted that he did not know plaintiff was wearing gloves and believed that he would have stopped plaintiff from using gloves if he had seen that he was wearing them while operating the drill press. Bush testified that within minutes of the accident he checked to see if the safety guard was in place and discovered that the machine was in good working order and that the guard was in place. Bush testified that the safety guard is always in place. Bush explained that the guard is designed to prevent hands from being caught in the drill and that it operates like a telescope that surrounds the drill bit. The guard will retract as it contacts the material to allow the drill bit to drill through the material.

         {¶11} Johnny Walker, an inmate at WCI, whose testimony was presented by deposition, testified that on July 6, 2017, he was assigned to work as a maintenance mechanic at the OPI shop. Walker stated that his duties included daily servicing, repairing, and inspecting the machines in the shop. Walker explained that after completing daily inspections, he signs a paper stating that the equipment is operational for the day or he places an out-of-service sign on any malfunctioning equipment until it is fixed. Walker testified that he performed his duties as he normally does on July 6, 2017.

         {¶12} Walker testified that the drill press plaintiff was operating on July 6, 2017, has an orange guard that lowers to cover the drill bit. Walker stated that the orange guard is bolted to the drill press and cannot be removed unless the carriage part is first removed. Walker testified that the guard protects the operator from ...

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