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Case Law Summary - 2014: October – December


Trip and Fall: Open and Obvious Doctrine and Attendant Circumstances

Gibson v. Leber

The Plaintiff stepped in a pothole as she exited her vehicle and was injured. She did not see the pothole, and her view of the pothole was obstructed by her vehicle door. The trial court dismissed the case through summary judgment on the grounds that the pothole was an open and obvious danger.

The 11th District reversed. The court reasoned that even when a hazard is open and obvious, attendant circumstances (distractions) may require the possessor to warn invitees, especially where there was a distraction that would come to the attention of a person in the same circumstances and reduce the degree of care any ordinary person would exercise at that time. The Court determined the lower court erred in determining that attendant circumstances do not include those created by the invitee’s individual activity. Ordinary tasks such as opening a car door are attendant circumstances, because the business owner can foresee these activities, and can foresee that such activities could obstruct the invitee’s view of the condition. The Plaintiff’s deposition testimony that her car door obstructed her view of the ground is sufficient to create a question of fact as to whether the condition was open and obvious.

Notably, the Court said, in dicta, at ¶ 7 that “[b]ecause our view is in significant disagreement with several other district courts, an in-depth explanation of our views is in order.”

Gibson v. Leber, 2014-Ohio-4542 (11th Dist.)



Negligence / Nursing Home

Carte v. The Manor at Whitehall

The Plaintiff’s estate filed a survivorship suit for a negligence claim arising out of a nursing home’s failure to provide adequate staffing. The plaintiff, a 76 year-old man, had a medical condition which created an increased risk that he would fall while moving. As a result, he was required to be attended by two staff members when being moved. On December 1, 2011, he was only attended by one staff member when moving from his bed to the bathroom, allegedly because the nursing home was short-staffed that day. On his way to the bathroom he fell and hit his head on the door jamb. He suffered a laceration on his forehead and a subarachnoid hemorrhage. Two months later he died. His death certificate indicated that the cause of death was failure to thrive due to subarachnoid hemorrhage.

The first lawsuit was dismissed after the nursing home’s attorneys argued that this was a medical claim and the estate had not provided a proper affidavit of merit required under Civ.R. 10(D)(2). A second suit was filed alleging both common law negligence and medical negligence, accompanied by an affidavit of merit from a nurse. The trial court again dismissed and the plaintiff’s estate appealed.

The Tenth District reversed and held that this was not a medical claim because no medical equipment for “the prevention or alleviation of a physical or mental defect or illness” was used. Further, the Court cited several other cases where transport to-and-from non-medical aspects of a nursing home’s care consisted only of ordinary negligence and not medical claims.

Here, the Plaintiff’s injury arose because he had to use the bathroom, not because he was in the process of receiving medical diagnosis, care or treatment. Staff assistance to-and-from the bathroom does not involve “the prevention or alleviation of a physical or mental defect or illness.”

The court further held that if this were a medical claim, the affidavit by the nurse in question fulfills the requirements of Civ.R. 10(D)(2). It held that if the issue of proximate cause is within the common knowledge of a layperson—here the negligence of the nursing home failing to provide enough staff to assist the Plaintiff—it follows that the nurse could proffer an opinion that the Plaintiff’s injuries were caused by the negligence of the staff at the nursing home. Once the nurse expressed this opinion, no additional expert testimony was required to support the allegation that the fall had caused injuries to plaintiff.

Carte v. The Manor at Whitehall, 2014-Ohio-5670 (10th Dist.)



Government Immunity (Recreational Use Statute)

Combs v. Ohio Dept. of Natural Resources

The Plaintiff visited a state park to go fishing. While walking to his fishing spot, the plaintiff was struck in the right eye by a rock. The rock was launched in the air by a boom mower being operated by an ODNR employee. The rock caused significant damage to Plaintiff’s eye.

The trial court granted summary judgment for the defendant based on the recreational user statute (R.C. 1533.181), which provided immunity for the ODNR and the employee based on the recreational nature of the park.

• The Tenth District Court of Appeals reversed based on holding in Ryll v. Columbus Fireworks Display Co. Inc., which held that R.C. 1533.181 does not state that a recreational user is owed no duty. Rather, it immunizes an owner, lessee, or occupant of premises only from a duty “to keep the premises safe for entry or use.” Since the cause of the injury here, as in Ryll with the fireworks causing an injury, had nothing to do with the safety of the premises, but rather a flying piece of rock, there was no immunity under R.C. 1533.181.

Combs v. Ohio Dept. of Natural Resources, 2014-Ohio-4025 (10th Dist.)



Insurance - Liability

Sauer v. Crews

The estate of a driver who sustained fatal injuries in a collision with a parked trailer brought a wrongful death and survivorship action against the trailer owner. The owner filed a third-party complaint against its commercial general liability (CGL) insurer asserting breach of contract and seeking a declaration that it was entitled to coverage. Following a bench trial, the trial court found in favor of the estate in that the trailer owner was negligent in parking the trailer. The trial court further found that the CGL policy provided coverage for the driver’s injuries, and the CGL insurer appealed. The Court of Appeals affirmed, and the CGL insurer again appealed. The Ohio Supreme Court reverses.

The Ohio Supreme Court held that because the flatbed trailer was not a vehicle maintained for purposes other than transportation of cargo within meaning of the CGL policy, the policy was unambiguous when considered in the context in which the provision is used. Crews argued it was ambiguous because the word “cargo” was not defined, but the policy explicitly stated that a “trailer” designed for travel on public roads is an “auto” for purposes of the policy. The trailer was also unlike the exceptions specifically listed in the policy for “mobile equipment” and therefore could not fall under that exception.

Sauer v. Crews, 140 Ohio St.3d 314, 2014-Ohio-3655.


Zager v. Johnson Controls, Inc.

A backseat passenger was rendered a paraplegic after the driver of the vehicle struck a construction barrier and caused a 50-pound cooler from the vehicle’s trunk to strike the rear seatback where the Plaintiff was sitting. The Plaintiff brought a personal injury action against the driver of the vehicle and a products liability action against manufacturer of the rear seat of the vehicle. The trial court entered summary judgment (dismissed the case) for the manufacturer and the passenger appealed. The 12th District affirmed.

The 12th District held that the component parts doctrine applied, and that the products liability statute (R.C. 2307.71 et al.) had not taken away all possible defenses in a products liability case. The component parts doctrine protects a manufacturer from liability when the product itself was not defective, but became defective based on the assembly of the vehicle which the manufacturer did not participate in.

The 12th District found that the simple failure of the seat to retain cargo in the rear of the vehicle did not mean the design was defective. Further, the manufacturer did not have a duty to provide a warning to end users that the seat would not provide cargo retention. This is because a component part manufacturer is not required to “procure plans of the entire system, review those plans, and independently determine whether their respective component parts would function in a safe fashion.” The Court pointed out that Chrysler could have implemented any number of cargo retention devices but did not, so the component manufacturer should not be held liable for a decision made by Chrysler.

Finally, the Court found that the manufacturer did not fall under the component parts exception because they did not participate in the design or assembly of the vehicle. This exception requires substantial participation, not simple communication, as was the case here.

Zager v. Johnson Controls, Inc., 18 N.E.3d 533, 2014-Ohio-3998 (12th Dist.)

***These case summaries were adapted from the Ohio State Bar Association's official reports. All cases appear on the OSBA website at, as well as in the OSBA Report Online.***

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