from the Court of Claims of Ohio (Ct. of Cl. No.
and Swope and Richard F Swope, for appellant.
Yost, Attorney General, and Lee Ann Rabe, for appellee.
Richard F. Swope.
1} Rufus Jackson, an inmate at the Marion
Correctional Institution, was injured when a piece of HVAC
ductwork fell from a low flatbed cart and struck him as he
sat in the prison dayroom. September 7, 2018 Decision of the
Magistrate at 1, 2, 4. He sued the Department of
Rehabilitation and Correction for negligence, and the case
was tried to a Court of Claims magistrate on the issue of
liability. The magistrate found that he failed to prove that
the department had breached any duty of care to him; she
recommended judgment for the defendant department.
Id. at 9. After Mr. Jackson lodged certain
objections to that recommendation, the trial judge conducted
an independent assessment of those matters, reviewing the
implicated facts and conclusions afresh. February 4, 2019
Judgment Entry at 2. Finding that the magistrate had properly
determined the facts and applied the law, the trial court
adopted the magistrate's decision and entered judgment
for the department. Id. at 7. Mr. Jackson now
2} Mr. Jackson's appeal is rooted in his view
that "there was a high degree of probability an accident
would occur," Appellant's Brief at 11, and that in
light of that fact, the department breached" 'a
common-law duty of reasonable care and protection'"
to guard him against" 'unreasonable risks,
'" id. at 14 ("Conclusion,"
citing McCoy v. Engle, 42 Ohio App.3d 204 (10th
Dist.1987)). But Mr. Jackson did not prove at trial that the
department knew or should have known about the risk of such
an accident (let alone that the accident was probable to a
"high degree" or otherwise, or that a known risk
was "unreasonable"). And although the magistrate
found that Mr. Jackson had failed to establish that the
department had "notice" of the risk, he "did
not object to this aspect of the magistrate's
decision" and the trial court properly found that
"the evidence supports the magistrate's
finding." Magistrate's Decision at 9; Judgment Entry
at 7; compare October 25, 2018 Objections at 1 (not
contesting that finding by the magistrate). So Mr.
Jackson's appeal never really gets off the ground.
3} The facts to the extent they can be ascertained
from the testimony at trial are reasonably straightforward.
It is not contested that an enterprise called The K Company
had been doing HVAC work at the prison for roughly one to two
weeks at the time of the accident. Magistrate's Decision
at 1, 2, 5. K Company employee Donald Heberlein testified
that prison inmates would load ductwork onto flatbed carts
that his fellow K Company employee Steve Fox testified were
only about five to eight inches off the ground. Id.
at 3, 2; Heberlein Depo. at 5; Tr. at 31. Each piece of
ductwork was 56.5 inches high, measured 8 to 10 inches
across, and weighed approximately 10 to 20 pounds, Mr. Fox
said; they were loaded onto the carts vertically and were
considered stable because they had a 1.75 inch flange at each
end. Magistrate's Decision at 2; March 13, 2018 Liability
Trial Tr. at 14, 26, 27, 20 (Fox testimony that
"it's a pretty good way of hauling TDC * * *. It
4} As the magistrate summarized, "Heberlein
testified [through deposition] that the material did not need
to be secured on a cart because it was square, flat material
that typically rode on a cart very well. Heberlein stated
that loading the ductwork on carts did not require
instruction because the material was 'just metal
squares' that would ride on a cart. When asked why the
material was not secured on the cart, he stated that,
'Never in my life of 25 years of installing ductwork have
we ever secured any material to a cart, not once in my
career.'" Magistrate's Decision at 3. As the
trial court added, Mr. Heberlein "further testified that
he's 'never' had ductwork fall during transport
and hit anyone." Judgment Entry at 3; Heberlein Depo. at
5} "Heberlein described the floor of the
dayroom as being smooth concrete and stated that he did not
see any defects in the floor on the day of the
accident." Magistrate's Decision at 3-4; Heberlein
Depo. at 13. On somewhat mixed testimony that is not
challenged here, the magistrate found that "an inmate
worker was moving the cart through the dayroom" when the
ductwork fell. Id. at 8. That piece of falling
ductwork hit the seated Mr. Jackson on his head, shoulders,
and back, causing him injury. Id. at 1; Trial Tr. at
43 (Jackson testimony).
6} The prison guard who served as an escort to K
Company employees and who viewed his role as keeping the
contractors safe in that environment "testified that he
was behind the cart when the ductwork fell, that the incident
occurred suddenly without warning, and that prior to
plaintiffs incident, he had not witnessed any HVAC equipment
fall from a cart." Magistrate's Decision at 4; ...