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Jackson v. Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction

Court of Claims of Ohio

October 17, 2019


          Sent to S.C. Reporter 12/17/19



         {¶1} Plaintiff brought this action alleging negligence. At the outset of the proceedings, the parties stipulated that defendant breached a duty of care owed to plaintiff, proximately causing some harm. The case proceeded to trial on the issue of damages.

         {¶2} At all times relevant, plaintiff was an inmate in the custody and control of defendant at the Lebanon Correctional Institution (LCI). Plaintiff testified that on January 18, 2018, he was removed from his cell by Corrections Officers (COs), who conducted a search of the cell which was located on the third (top) range of the housing unit. During the search, plaintiff was placed at a "kiosk" on the first (lower) range, directly below his cell. Plaintiff testified that he was waiting in the kiosk when he was struck by a mattress that was thrown from the third range by a CO. According to plaintiff, the mattress weighed at least ten pounds and he became "dazed" when it landed on his head with great force.

         {¶3} Plaintiff testified that he continued to feel dazed when he returned to his cell after the incident and that the next morning, he experienced a severe headache. Plaintiff related that he submitted a written health services request and, when he was not placed on "sick call," he informed the institutional inspector, who took him to the Captain's office before he was examined by medical staff. Plaintiff testified that he was provided non-prescription pain medication. Plaintiff returned to medical "a day or two" later after he continued to experience headaches and he received a prescription for a steroid (Prednisone). Plaintiff stated that he filed a grievance against defendant's medical staff because he did not believe his complaints were being taken "seriously."

         {¶4} On February 1, 2018, plaintiff sustained injuries to his head, including a fractured jaw, as a result of being attacked by another inmate. Plaintiff was transported to the Ohio State University hospital for surgery to treat the fracture. He was then treated at the Franklin Medical Center for several days before he returned to LCI. Plaintiff testified that he was initially "heavily medicated" following his surgery, but that he suffered severe pain and headaches during his time in a segregation unit at LCI. According to plaintiff, he was subsequently provided Tylenol-3 for pain, which helped alleviate his headaches. After spending approximately two days in segregation, plaintiff was returned to a cell on the third range and he continued to receive both pain medication and Prednisone to treat headaches and an "aching" feeling in his back. Plaintiff testified that he was unable to open his mouth for approximately six weeks following his jaw surgery and that after that time, his jaw felt "stiff" from being unable to eat solid food and he experienced weakness from inactivity.

         {¶5} Plaintiff informed defendant's medical staff that he continued to suffer from a "stiff neck," back pain, and headaches even after his jaw injury had healed. Plaintiff testified that he received a prescription for "Flexeril" and was instructed to perform stretching exercises to treat what may have been muscle spasms or "agitated nerves." According to plaintiff, he currently feels "pretty good" except for symptoms of a stiff neck and "tingly numbness" in his thumb. Plaintiff testified that, after his jaw healed, he continued to perform the same duties as a porter until he was transferred from LCI.

         {¶6} Sonya Peppers, M.D. testified that she treated plaintiff three times between August 23, 2018 and October 16, 2018 for complaints of chronic neck pain, and occasional shoulder pain and numbness. Dr. Peppers considered plaintiff's history of being struck by a mattress and the assault which resulted in a fractured jaw, but she testified that she was unable to determine the cause of the symptoms that he was experiencing. According to Dr. Peppers, she reviewed plaintiffs medical records and did not observe any objective signs of neck problems when she performed her examinations.

         {¶7} Carolyn Reif, a certified nurse practitioner, testified that she treated plaintiff twice in January 2018 for complaints of a stiff neck, pain, headaches, and muscle spasms which he attributed to being injured by a mattress that was dropped from the third range. Sherri Curtis, who is also a nurse practitioner, testified that she treated plaintiff in January 2019 for complaints of chronic neck stiffness. Reif testified that she did not see any objective cause of pain or stiffness and she recommended over the counter pain medication to treat plaintiffs symptoms. Reif stated that she had the opportunity to observe plaintiff perform his duties as a porter in the medical unit and she explained that he did not appear to have any functional limitations.

         {¶8} "In order to sustain an action for negligence, a plaintiff must show the existence of a duty owing from the defendant to the plaintiff or injured party, a breach of that duty, and that the breach was the proximate cause of resulting damages." Sparre v. Ohio Dept. of Transp., 10th Dist. Franklin No. 12AP-381, 2013-Ohio-4153, ¶ 9. "'It is axiomatic that every plaintiff bears the burden of proving the nature and extent of his damages in order to be entitled to compensation.'" Jayashree Restaurants, LLC v. DDR PTC Outparcel LLC, 10th Dist. Franklin No. 16AP-186, 2016-Ohio-5498, ¶ 13, quoting Akro-Plastics v. Drake Indus., 115 Ohio App.3d 221, 226 (11th Dist.1996). "As a general rule, the appropriate measure of damages in a tort action is the amount which will compensate and make the plaintiff whole." N. Coast Premier Soccer, LLC v. Ohio Dept. of Transp., 10th Dist. Franklin No. 12AP-589, 2013-Ohio-1677, ¶ 17. "[D]amages must be shown with reasonable certainty and may not be based upon mere speculation or conjecture * * *." Rakich v. Anthem Blue Cross & Blue Shield, 172 Ohio App.3d 523, 2007-Ohio-3739, ¶ 20 (10th Dist.).

         {¶9} "Although a claimant may establish proximate cause through circumstantial evidence, 'there must be evidence of circumstances which will establish with some degree of certainty that the alleged negligent acts caused the injury.'" Mills v. Best W. Springdale, 10th Dist. Franklin No. 08AP-1022, 2009-Ohio-2901, ¶ 20, quoting Woodworth v. New York Cent. RR. Co., 149 Ohio St. 543, 549 (1948). "It is well-established that when only speculation and conjecture is presented to establish proximate causation, the negligence claim has failed as a matter of law." Harris v. Ohio Dept. of Rehab. & Corr., 10th Dist. Franklin No. 13AP-466, 2013-Ohio-5714, ¶ 15. "Generally, where an issue involves a question of scientific inquiry that is not within the knowledge of a layperson, expert testimony is required." Id. at ¶ 16, citing Stacey v. Carnegie-Illinois Steel Corp., 156 Ohio St. 205 (1951). "Where complicated medical problems are at issue, testimony from a qualified expert is necessary to establish a proximate causal relationship between the incident and the injury." Tunks v. Chrysler Group LLC, 6th Dist. Lucas No. L-12-1297, 2013-Ohio-5183, ¶ 18.

         {¶10} Plaintiff did not present any expert testimony establishing the cause of his alleged long-term soft-tissue injury or pain that he experienced. The court finds that plaintiff failed to prove that that the subjective long-term injuries he described were proximately caused by being struck by a mattress. See Argie v. Three Little Pigs, Ltd., 10th Dist. Franklin No. 11AP-437, 2012-Ohio-667, 2012 Ohio App. Lexis 570, ¶ 15 (Subjective, soft-tissue injuries, being internal and elusive and not observable, require expert testimony to establish causation).

         {¶11} The court concludes that plaintiff suffered some soft-tissue injuries when he was struck by the mattress. However, the court further finds that plaintiffs symptoms of neck pain and stiffness which he experienced after February 1, 2018 were also attributable to the attack that fractured his jaw. The court finds that plaintiffs injuries from being struck by the mattress were temporary in nature and resolved over a period of months. Plaintiff failed to establish the proximate cause of any long-term injuries that he claims to be experiencing.

         {¶12} Based upon the foregoing, the court finds that plaintiff is entitled to recover $6, 025 which represents $6, 000 in damages, plus the $25 filing fee. Accordingly, it is ...

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