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Tenth District Rules in Malpractice Case

The Tenth District Court of Appeals has upheld a ruling against a Dayton bar for violating Ohio's state-wide smoking ban.

The Tenth District Court of Appeals has upheld a ruling against a Dayton bar for violating Ohio's state-wide smoking ban.

The Tenth District Court of Appeals has ruled that a settlement a plaintiff received from a non-state defendant in a medical malpractice case was not a “benefit” that must be offset (deducted) from the amount of damages the plaintiff may recover from the state based on the liability of a state university employee for the plaintiff’s injuries.

In a 3-0 per curiam decision announced January 8, the court of appeals upheld a ruling by the Ohio Court of Claims that state law did not require an offset of the $2 million settlement Cynthia and Howard Adae received from Clinton Memorial Hospital (CMH) in a private medical malpractice suit from the $3.3 million in damages awarded to the Adaes by the Court of Claims based on the negligence of a physician employed by the University of Cincinnati (UC).

The case involved interpretation of R.C. 3345.40(B)(2), a provision of state law requiring that “benefits for injury or loss”  received by a plaintiff “from a policy ... of insurance or any other source” must be deducted from that person’s award of damages against a state college or university arising from the same injuries.

The Adaes’ claims arose from the failure of CMH personnel, including an attending physician employed by UC,  to act on blood test results that were returned from a laboratory after Mrs. Adae was discharged  from the hospital after an overnight stay for symptoms that included periodic high fevers and back pain.  The lab test results, which showed that Mrs. Adae had a serious staph infection, were not acted on by the attending doctor or communicated to the Adaes by the hospital. By the time Mrs. Adae was able to see her family physician, four days after the lab results were received by CMH, her symptoms had worsened to the point that she could barely walk.  An MRI of her back at a different hospital disclosed a severe spinal infection that required immediate surgery to relieve pressure on her spinal column. As a result of the delayed diagnosis and treatment of her condition, Mrs. Adae was rendered an incomplete paraplegic and suffered the loss of bladder and bowel functions.

The Adaes filed a civil malpractice action against CMH in the Clinton County Court of Common Pleas, and a separate action against UC and the attending physician in the Court of Claims. The Court of Claims delayed action in its case pending the resolution of the Clinton County proceedings, which concluded with the Adaes settling with CMH and its insurer for $2 million. 

After separate proceedings to determine liability and damages, the Court of Claims entered judgment in favor of the Adaes and awarded them damages against UC totaling $3,311,761. 

In its decision, the Court of Claims noted the 10th District’s recent holding in Aubry v. Univ. of Toledo Med. Ctr. (March, 2012) that a plaintiff’s settlement with a non-state defendant in a medical malpractice action was not a collateral “benefit” subject to offset against an award of damages against a state university under R.C. 3345.40(B)(2).  Based on that precedent, the Court of Claims concluded that the Adaes’ civil settlement from CMH was not subject to offset against their award from UC, and entered judgment in their favor for the full $3.3 million.  

UC appealed that decision, raising three assignments of error including an assertion that the Court of Claims had misinterpreted R.C. 3345.40(B)(2) when it found that the Adaes’ settlement with CMH  was not subject to offset.  In its decision, the Tenth District overruled all three assignments of error and affirmed the judgment of the Court of Claims.

In rejecting the university’s argument that the Adaes’ settlement with CMH should have been  offset against their award from the state, the court of appeals cited the Supreme Court of Ohio’s 1991 decision in Vogel v. Wells, which interpreted identical language in a different statute that required an offset of “benefits” a plaintiff had received from other sources against  his recovery from a political subdivision.

The court wrote: “The Supreme Court, in Vogel, expressly adopted a definition of the word
‘benefits’ to be used with respect to R.C. 2744.05(B). In determining whether the trial
court properly set off amounts received by the plaintiff, the Supreme Court stated:
‘The term "benefits" is nowhere defined in the statute. However, a benefit has
been defined elsewhere as "[f]inancial assistance received in time of sickness,
disability, unemployment, etc. either from insurance or public programs such as social
security." Black's Law Dictionary (6 Ed.1990) 158. Under this definition, which we adopt
here, neither the gift from the decedent's employer nor the payment of funeral
expenses by the decedent's father constituted benefits under R.C. 2744.05(B), and the
court of appeals was correct in restoring these funds to the decedent's estate.’

“In Aubry, this court applied the Supreme Court's adopted definition of ‘benefits’ to the statutory language in R.C. 3345.40(B)(2), which is identical to the statutory language at issue in Vogel. Aubry involved medical malpractice claims arising out of a surgical procedure performed by an employee of the University of Toledo Medical Center, under the supervision of a doctor who was not a university employee. ... (O)ur ultimate holding in Aubry was that ‘the settlement proceeds appellants received ...  do not fall within the scope of “benefits,” as that term is used in R.C. 3345.40(B)(2).’”

“The question of statutory interpretation is a question of law. Both Aubry and this case, as well as Vogel, involve interpretations of identical statutory language. Interpretation of the plain statutory language does not depend upon the facts or procedural history of a given case, and the meaning of the language does not change based on the effect of its application. Accordingly, we discern no basis for diverging from this court's very recent holding in Aubry based on factual and/or procedural differences between Aubry and this case.”

The court’s opinion was joined by Judges William A. Klatt, Peggy L. Bryant and George G. Tyack.

Adae v. State, 2013-Ohio-0023
Civil Appeal From: Ohio Court of Claims
Judgment Appealed From Is: Affirmed
Date of Judgment Entry on Appeal: January 8, 2013

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