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Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Probate Court to Determine How Much of $3.3 Million Award Family Will Receive in Wrongful Death Case

Image of a pothole

A probate court will determine how much of a $3.3 million judgment ODOT will pay.

Image of a pothole

A probate court will determine how much of a $3.3 million judgment ODOT will pay.

Dennis D Miller, Admr., etc. v. Ohio Department of Transportation, et al., Case No. 2009-07679

A probate court will determine how much of a $3.3 million judgment will be paid by the Ohio Department of Transportation to the surviving family members of an Ohio woman who died in a head-on collision caused by a large pothole.

Pauline Miller died in a March 2008 traffic crash when a truck driver swerved into her lane after he hit a pothole in Columbiana County. The Court of Claims on April 4 ordered ODOT to pay Miller’s surviving family the multi-million dollar award, but under Ohio law the probate court will determine how much the amount should be reduced based on collateral benefits already received by the family, such as insurance or disability. The first court proceeding to determine these amounts is scheduled on June 28.

Miller’s husband Dennis and the couple’s two adult children, Rachael and Nathan, filed a wrongful death lawsuit with the Ohio Court of Claims in September 2009. The case went to trial, and the issues of liability and damages were separated into two parts. On the issue of liability, the court in April 2012 “determined that but for the existence of potholes in the roadway, the motor vehicle collision would not have occurred.” The case then proceeded to trial on the issue of damages in January 2013.

Lawyers for ODOT said the Court of Claims should take a look at precedent: “As this court takes judicial notice of net wrongful death damage awards, it will see that an average of all of the total awards for the past 20 years is less than $1 million.”

“One cannot help but feel sympathy for the family in this case. However, as this court well knows, it needs to put sympathy aside and decide at this stage of the case what fair and just compensation is to both parties and the public whose funds will be used to pay any such award,” ODOT’s lawyers added in a brief to the court.

In the April 4 decision by Judge Patrick M. McGrath, the court awarded $1.3 million in wages lost, $243,000 for household services Pauline Miller would have performed, and $1 million to Dennis Miller and $400,000 for each of their two children for “loss of society and mental anguish.”

“Based upon the evidence and testimony presented at trial, the court is convinced that Pauline was a loving wife and mother and that her death caused much mental suffering for Dennis, Rachael, and Nathan ... Pauline’s spouse and dependent children are entitled to non-economic damages,” Judge McGrath wrote in his decision.

The Court of Claims is given original jurisdiction to hear and determine all civil actions filed against the State of Ohio and its agencies.

To access information on other cases visit the Court of Claims website.

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