Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Court to Consider if Utility Company Liable for Injuries When Motorcyclist Hit by Deer Strikes Roadside Pole

Among Seven Cases Scheduled for Oral Arguments

Image of a utility pole and utility lines

A Cleveland power company has asked the Supreme Court not to deem it liable for an accident in which a man was injured when a deer darted into the road hitting him, causing him to lose control of his motorcycle and strike a nearby utility pole.

Image of a utility pole and utility lines

A Cleveland power company has asked the Supreme Court not to deem it liable for an accident in which a man was injured when a deer darted into the road hitting him, causing him to lose control of his motorcycle and strike a nearby utility pole.

A Geauga County man consumed alcohol at a local tavern then got on his motorcycle to return home when a deer darted out into a newly widened road hitting him, which caused him to lose control of the motorcycle and strike a utility pole. The man and his wife sued the power company for not moving the pole arguing it was too close to the road and won a nearly $800,000 jury verdict. The company appealed. The Ohio Supreme Court will hear oral arguments next week to determine if the utility had the right to keep the pole where it was or if it needed to honor requests from local officials to move it.

The dispute in Link v. Cleveland Electric Illuminating Company, marks the second case where a motorist suffered injuries after colliding with a deer then striking a Cleveland Electric Illuminating Co. (CEI) utility pole along the widened Savage Road in Bainbridge Township. The case has drawn the interest of another major utility pole owner in Ohio as well as local government organizations because CEI has asserted the local government never took an official act to require CEI to move the pole. Ohio Bell Telephone Company, which does business as AT&T Ohio, filed an amicus brief supporting CEI, while the County Commissioners Association of Ohio and the Ohio Township Association have joined the case in support of Douglas and Diane Link.

After the Bainbridge Township Board of Trustees approved a plan to widen Savage Road, the Geauga County engineer developed a construction plan in which CEI agreed to move more than 40 utility poles. CEI divided the project into two phases, and after moving several poles, determined that eight poles weren’t required for relocation. The township trustees and county engineer informed CEI that they wanted the eight poles moved, but didn’t take any legislative action to force the company to move them.

After the road re-opened in 2009, some of the poles were closer to the road than before the reconstruction, and David Bidar hit one of the poles after a deer jumped in front of his car. The Eighth District Court of Appeals sided with Bidar in his lawsuit against CEI finding the company didn’t have permission to leave the poles in place. About six months later, in October 2010, Douglas Link had a deer dash into his left side, causing him to lose control of the motorcycle and strike a CEI utility pole. He suffered damage to his leg and pelvis, and a jury ordered CEI to pay him and his wife a total $798,532. The Eighth District affirmed that ruling citing the Bidar case.

CEI has appealed arguing the pole has been in the same location since 1952 without incident until Link hit it, and that the Ohio Supreme Court’s 2008 Turner v. Ohio Bell Telephone Co. decision found that a utility cannot be held liable if the utility obtained “any necessary permission to install the pole” where the pole was placed. CEI notes that it had approval for the pole to be where it was, and that the township or county engineer never took any official act to make CEI move the pole, so the company can’t be liable for Link’s injuries.

Oral Arguments
In addition to the pole collision case, the Court will hear three other appeals on Tuesday, Feb. 23 and three cases on Wednesday, Feb. 24. The Court’s sessions begin at 9 a.m. at the Thomas J. Moyer Ohio Judicial Center in Columbus. The arguments will be streamed live online at sc.ohio.gov and broadcast live on The Ohio Channel.

Previews Available
Along with the brief descriptions below, the Office of Public Information today released previews of the cases.

Cases for Tuesday, Feb. 23
A Connecticut investor seeks a $100,000 tax refund for a partial payment made toward a tax bill of more than $800,000 contending the relevant state law is unconstitutional. In Corrigan v. Tax Commissioner of Ohio, the nonresident investor sold his majority ownership in an Ohio company and argues he’s being taxed here on his out-of-state income, which violates the due process and commerce clauses of the Ohio and U.S. constitutions.

In State v. (J.M.), a man who pled guilty in 1989 to receiving stolen property has applied to have his record removed from public view. Along with his felony conviction in Franklin County, he has been convicted for two other misdemeanors. State law prohibits sealing the record of an offender with more than one felony conviction and one misdemeanor conviction. The applicant contends his misdemeanor for failing to renew his vehicle registration is similar to other traffic offenses excluded by the law and therefore shouldn’t be counted against his request.

The Dayton offices of Roetzel & Andress (R&A) and a firm attorney were sued for malpractice by a California woman who hired R&A to sue another law firm for malpractice. In Roetzel & Andress v. Ratonel, the woman claimed her first law firm’s poor representation on a real estate transaction cost her more than $1 million in damages, and that R&A committed malpractice when she felt forced into a settlement against the original law firm.

Cases for Wednesday, Feb. 24
The case In re Von concerns a man convicted of child sexual assault 19 years ago in Colorado. Now a Trumbull County resident, he is seeking to end his ongoing requirements to register with local authorities based on a 2008 state law. The state maintains that the option to terminate registration obligations applies only to sex offenders sentenced after the statute’s 2008 effective date.

The Ohio Supreme Court placed all pleadings and other filings of In re Grand Jury Proceeding of Doe under seal. A Cuyahoga County grand jury issued a subpoena to individuals to testify and produce documents, and the subpoena recipients asked a trial court to block the subpoena. When the trial court denied the request, the parties appealed to the Eighth District Court of Appeals, which stated it had no jurisdiction at that time to hear the request. The Court is being asked to grant the Eighth District the right to hear the appeal.

The professional conduct board for Ohio lawyers recommends a six-month suspension for a Cleveland attorney in Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association v. Paris. The board determined the lawyer tried numerous times to seduce a client into a sexual relationship and he also neglected to attend the client’s sentencing hearing. The attorney asserts that he accepts responsibility for his misconduct and asks the Court to instead approve a six-month stayed suspension.

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