Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Court of Claims Denies Negligence Claim in OSU Elevator Death

Nadia Higgins, Admr., etc. v. Oracle Elevator Company and Campus Partners for Community Urban Redevelopment v. The Ohio State University, Case No. 2013-00134 PR

The wife of a London man who was crushed to death by an elevator at the former Holiday Inn on the Lane near the Ohio State University campus will not receive compensation from the state. The Court of Claims of Ohio granted motions for summary judgment to the defendants in the case on December 11.

On April 13, 2009, Oracle Elevator Company employees James Higgins and Sean Taylor were tasked with removing wood panelling from elevator cars in the former hotel that was being renovated into a dormitory (now known as Lane Avenue Residence Hall). Campus Partners for Community Urban Redevelopment owned the building and leased it to Ohio State. Before Higgins and Taylor could remove the panelling, they needed to remove the handrails. An uncooperative bolt caused Higgins to see if something outside the elevator was preventing removing it. When he accessed a second elevator pit, he was crushed.

Nadia Higgins originally sued Oracle and Campus Partners in Franklin County Common Pleas Court. After Campus Partners included Ohio State (the State of Ohio) as a third-party defendant, the case stopped in the common pleas court and moved to the Court of Claims. Once the Court of Claims completes its review of the state portion of the case, the case will be sent back to the common pleas court for a determination of the rest of the private parties case.

In the Court of Claims decision, Judge Patrick M. McGrath rejected her intentional tort claim against Oracle for three reasons:

  • A pit stop switch, which prevents an elevator from moving when it’s turned off, cannot be considered an “equipment safety guard” under the state statute to prove an employer’s liability.
  • She didn’t present any evidence to prove that an electrical jumper that bypassed the pit stop switch was Oracle’s.
  • There’s no evidence that Oracle required or directed Higgins to enter the elevator pit.

In claims presented against Campus Partners, Judge McGrath cited a 1988 Ohio Supreme Court case, which referred to a 1966 case, as to what elements a plaintiff must show in a wrongful death negligence case: “(1) the existence of a duty owing to plaintiff’s decedent, (2) a breach of that duty, and (3) proximate causation between the breach of duty and the death.”

“Generally,” Judge McGrath wrote, “liability in tort is dependent upon occupation or control of the premises.” While OSU had assumed control of the premises, Campus Partners did not control Oracle’s work on the elevators.

Judge McGrath quoted a 1952 Supreme Court case that “[o]ne having neither occupation nor control of premises ordinarily is under no legal duty to an invitee of another with respect to the condition or use of those premises” to address Nadia Higgins’ claim that Campus Partners had a duty to inspect the property.

As to her claim of “non-delegable duties upon landlords,” Judge McGrath pointed to exceptions to what is considered “residential premises” in Ohio’s Landlords and Tenants Act that include hotels. He also noted that Higgins’ “failure to follow his training and experience when entering the elevator pit proximately caused his death.”

“In short, plaintiff has not demonstrated that there are any genuine issues of material fact remaining for trial,” Judge McGrath wrote, in referencing a condition needed to grant summary judgment as outlined in Civ.R. 56(C). “Therefore, the court concludes that Campus Partners and Oracle are entitled to judgment as a matter of law as to plaintiff’s claims.”

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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