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Holloman v. Ohio Department of Rehabilitation And Correction

Court of Claims of Ohio

July 22, 2019


          Gary Peterson Magistrate



         {¶1} Plaintiff Martin Holloman brought this action for negligence against defendant Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC) after he fell and suffered injuries at Pickaway Correctional Institution (PCI). Prior to trial, the parties stipulated that ODRC breached a duty of care owed to plaintiff and proximately caused plaintiff some harm. The case went to trial before the magistrate on the issue of damages. Following the trial, the magistrate issued a decision recommending the court render judgment in favor of plaintiff in the amount of $10, 025.00. ODRC timely filed objections. Plaintiff filed a motion for an extension of time to respond, but ultimately filed a response within ten days of ODRC's filing of objections. Therefore, plaintiffs motion for an extension of time is DENIED as moot. ODRC's objections and plaintiffs response are now before the court for consideration. For the reasons set forth below, the court overrules ODRC's objections and adopts the magistrate's decision as its own.

         Factual Background

         {¶2} Plaintiff was an inmate in the custody and control of ODRC. He was incarcerated at PCI from approximately July 2016 to October 2016. About two years prior to his incarceration, plaintiff was in a car accident in Georgia. He sustained a back injury and was suffering from chronic back problems when he arrived at PCI. Upon his arrival, plaintiff was examined by Dr. Sonya Peppers, a physician administrator at PCI. Dr. Peppers noted that plaintiff had a preexisting back injury and suffered pain and some diminished movement in his left leg. She determined that plaintiff suffered from back pain (lumbago) and sciatic nerve impingement (sciatica). Dr. Peppers prescribed plaintiff a cane and placed him on a bottom range and bottom bunk restriction.

         {¶3} Plaintiffs original housing assignment at PCI was in B1, a first-floor dormitory. Despite the bottom range housing restriction put in place by Dr. Peppers, plaintiff was later reassigned to A2, a second-floor dormitory. Plaintiff transferred to A2 on August 4, 2016. During the transfer, PCI staff ordered plaintiff to carry his metal locker box up a staircase. The locker box held plaintiffs personal possessions, and plaintiff estimates it weighed 25 to 30 pounds. As plaintiff was climbing the stairs, his leg gave out, and he fell down the staircase. Plaintiffs locker box landed on top of him. He was taken to the PCI infirmary on a golf cart.

         {¶4} Dr. Peppers examined and treated plaintiff in the infirmary. Medical examination notes indicate plaintiff had bruising and swelling on the back of his head and complained of pain in his back and pain, numbness, and tingling in his left leg. Dr. Peppers ordered X-rays of plaintiffs back and chest, which did not show any fractures. She determined that the fall exacerbated plaintiffs preexisting sciatica and treated plaintiff with ice, muscle relaxers, anti-inflammatory medications, and pain medications. She prescribed plaintiff a rollator and various medications. Some of the medications were treated as controlled substances by PCI, and plaintiff was required to go to the medical bay to receive them. Other medications were treated as "carry" medications that plaintiff could keep with him.

         {¶5} Plaintiff testified that he experienced severe pain and stiffness in his back for two to three days after the fall and rarely left his dormitory during that time. He admitted that he visited PCI's second-floor law library the day after his fall, but stated another inmate helped him by pushing him to the staircase while he sat on the seat of his rollator and helping him climb the staircase. Plaintiff missed follow-up appointments at the infirmary on August 6, 8, and 10, 2016. He stated he did not go to the infirmary because he did not have anyone to help physically escort him. Plaintiff did go to the infirmary on August 12, 2016, where he was examined and treated by Dr. Sharrie Ray. Dr. Ray observed improvement of plaintiffs head injury and a reduction of swelling but noted that plaintiff had pain and numbness in his left leg and tenderness in his lower back. She also noted that some of the medications prescribed to plaintiff upset his stomach. Dr. Ray prescribed him some additional medications.

         {¶6} PCI medical administration records indicate plaintiff took only some of the controlled medication that Dr. Peppers and Dr. Ray prescribed. Plaintiff stated that he did not always take his controlled medication because he had to walk to wait in line at the infirmary and did not always have another inmate available to assist him. Dr. Peppers testified that PCI medical staff does not assign other inmates to assist inmate patients with rollators. Medical evaluation notes also indicate that plaintiff visited the infirmary three more times between August 12, 2016 and his release in October 2016. All three visits were unrelated to plaintiffs back injury and plaintiff apparently did not mention back pain during those visits. Plaintiff testified that he did not believe he would receive any additional treatment beyond the rollator and the medication already prescribed. Dr. Peppers testified that plaintiff could have received additional shots or medication to relax the muscles and treat pain.

         {¶7} Plaintiff testified that he continues to experience stiffness and pain in his back. He his physically disabled and no longer able to work. He continues to receive medical treatment, physical therapy, and aqua therapy for his back issues. Plaintiff did not present any expert testimony concerning the cause of his current back ailments.

         {¶8} The magistrate found that plaintiffs fall at PCI caused severe pain and stiffness in plaintiffs back and exacerbated his preexisting sciatica. The magistrate determined that the pain associated with the fall likely diminished by the time of plaintiffs release in October 2016. Furthermore, the magistrate found that plaintiff did not establish that his current back pain and disability are causally related to the fall. Ultimately, the magistrate recommended plaintiff receive $10, 000 in damages to compensate for past pain and suffering and an additional $25 to compensate for the filing fee in this case. Defendant objects that the recommended damages are excessive.

         Standard of Review

         {¶9} Civ.R. 53(D)(3)(b)(i) provides, "A party may file written objections to a magistrate's decision within fourteen days of the filing of the decision, whether or not the court has adopted the decision during that fourteen-day period as permitted by Civ.R. 53(D)(4)(e)(i)." "Whether or not objections are timely filed, a court may adopt or reject a magistrate's decision in whole or in part, with or without modification." Civ.R. 53(D)(4)(b). Objections "shall be specific and state with particularity all grounds for objection." Civ.R. 53(D)(3)(b)(ii). They must be supported "by a transcript of all the evidence submitted to the magistrate relevant to that finding or an affidavit of that evidence if the transcript is not available." Civ.R. 53(D)(3)(b)(iii). The court granted plaintiff leave to support his objections with an affidavit of evidence instead of the transcript. (Entry, February 4, 2019.)

         {¶10} The court "shall undertake an independent review as to the objected matters to ascertain that the magistrate has properly determined the factual issues, and appropriately applied the law." Civ.R. 53(D)(4)(d). In reviewing the objections, the court does not act as an appellate court but rather conducts "a de novo review of the facts and conclusions in the magistrate's decision." Ramse ...

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