Collateral Recovery Reduces Award Family Will Receive in Wrongful Death Case to $1.8 Million
ODOT will pay more than $1.8 million to the family of an Ohio woman who died in a head-on collision caused by a large pothole. The Court of Claims of Ohio reduced the original $3.3 million award by the amount of of collateral benefits – including attorney fees and case expenses – already received by the family, as required by law.
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. Miller’s husband Dennis and the couple’s two adult children, Rachael and Nathan, filed a wrongful death lawsuit with the Court of Claims on September 21, 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 this year.
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.”
In the August 30 judgment entry after the parties filed a stipulation of collateral sources, the court ruled that “the total amount of collateral benefits received, which must be set off from plaintiff’s damages award, is $1,522,082.96. Accordingly, judgment is rendered for plaintiff in the amount of $1,820,942.04.”
The parties had disputed whether $254,772.33 in attorney fees and case expenses from the proceeds of a wrongful death settlement with Morgan Trucking Company should be counted as collateral benefits. The court cited a 2006 case (Robertson v. Dept. of Public Safety) in determining that attorney fees and expenses are considered collateral recovery and included them in the total setoff amount.
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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