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Harris v. Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Tenth District

December 12, 2019

Herman Harris, Jr., Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, Defendant-Appellee.

          APPEAL from the Court of Claims of Ohio Ct. of Cl. No. 2016-00883JD

         On brief:

          Swope and Swope, and Richard F Swope, for appellant.

          Dave Yost, Attorney General, and Christopher P. Conomy, for appellee.

         Argued:

          Richard F. Swope.

          DECISION

          KLATT, P.J.

         {¶ 1} Plaintiff-appellant, Herman Harris, Jr., appeals a judgment of the Court of Claims of Ohio in favor of defendant-appellee, Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, following a trial on liability. For the following reasons, we affirm.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         {¶ 2} On May 2, 2016, appellant, an inmate at the Pickaway Correctional Institution, was working in the central food service area of the facility. As part of his work responsibilities, appellant was assigned the task of moving a quantity of frozen food from a freezer to a food waste pulper for disposal. Appellant loaded the frozen food onto sheet pans and placed the sheet pans on a movable rack. The rack was a little over six feet high and approximately two feet wide. The rack was mounted on four wheels. Each wheel could swivel. Appellant was pushing the loaded rack from the area of the freezer to the food waste pulper, a distance of approximately 25 yards. Due to its height, the rack partially obstructed appellant's view as he pushed it towards the food pulper. Appellant had not performed this task before.

         {¶ 3} As appellant approached the pulper, one of the front wheels on the rack rolled down into a recessed covered floor drain causing the rack to tilt. The drain cover was recessed below the surface of the surrounding floor by less than two inches. As the rack tilted, the sheet pans began to slide off the rack. Appellant attempted to block the sheet pans from sliding completely off the rack but the entire rack tipped over onto him. Appellant sustained injuries as a result of the accident.

         {¶ 4} Appellant brought a negligence claim against appellee alleging that appellee failed to exercise reasonable care by not repairing the defective drain or warning him of the hazard. The trial court bifurcated the issues of liability and damages, and a magistrate held an evidentiary hearing solely on the issue of liability. The magistrate found that the recessed drain cover was defective and created an unreasonable risk of harm. However, the magistrate found no liability on the part of appellee based on appellant's failure to prove that appellee had actual or constructive knowledge of the hazard.

         {¶ 5} Appellant filed objections to the magistrate's decision. Following a de novo review, the trial court agreed with the magistrate that the pictures of the drain cover reflected a defect but that appellant failed to prove appellee had actual or constructive knowledge of the hazard prior to appellant's accident. Therefore, the trial court overruled appellant's objections and adopted the magistrate's findings of fact and conclusions of law.[1] Appellant appeals, assigning the following errors:

[1.] The trial court and the magistrate erred in sustaining an objection to a relevant admissible question concerning maintenance and work orders ...

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