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Court News Ohio

Court of Claims Holds Ohio State Liable For Professor Who Ran Over Man On Highway

Darlene Lane Ferraro, Etc. v. The Ohio State University Medical Center, Case No. 2011-10371

The Ohio State University is being held legally responsible for the death of a Cleveland man who was run over on the highway by a university medical center professor en route to a conference at the Cleveland Clinic.

The Ohio Court of Claims determined that Dr. Rolf Barth, professor emeritus in the Department of Pathology ran over Junior Lee Lane in his 2004 Mercedes while on Interstate 71 in Cuyahoga County. Barth failed to recognize that a pickup truck ahead of him had abruptly stopped on the freeway and Lane had gotten out of the truck to try to reconnect a car that the truck was towing, the court said in its December 19 decision.

While the court determined Barth’s negligence caused the accident, Lane’s getting out of the truck on the busy highway contributed to the accident as did the actions of the pickup truck driver, Gary Fury, who thought it best to stop in one of four lanes rather than pull the truck over and retrieve the car. As a result, the court ruled that because Barth was acting on behalf of the university when the accident happened, Ohio State will be responsible for one-third of the total damages awarded to Darlene Lane Ferraro, Junior Lee Lane’s sister and the executor of his estate.

Judge Patrick McGrath has scheduled a January 7 conference to discuss the next steps in the damages phase of the case.

In September 2010, Gary Fury picked up Lane and Jesse Fury in a 1997 Dodge Ram with the intent the three would tow a Corvette convertible. The three obtained a tow dolly from a relative of Lane’s and Fury attempted to hitch the dolly to the back of the Ram in order to tow the Corvette. The three had difficulty hooking up the tow dolly to the truck before traveling, but nevertheless started traveling with the Corvette. Gary Fury indicated that traveling two miles north on I-71 could be accomplished without incident.

However, as the three towed the car, the dolly slipped off the truck. According to the court, Gary Fury stopped the truck in one of the four lanes just before the highway split with two lanes continuing on I-71 and two lanes veering to Interstate 480. Gary Fury testified that he was familiar with the area and that it was a well-lighted portion of the highway. Jesse Fury exited the truck, walked behind it several yards and took off his t-shirt to wave to other vehicles that the truck was stopped. Lane began to reconnect the tow dolly when Barth approached traveling 65 miles per hour in a 60 mph zone and listening to “loud Russian martial music,” according to the court. Witnesses told police several other vehicles came upon the stopped truck and passed it, but Barth did not slow down. Jesse Fury, ran across the highway to get out of the way and alerted Lane to do the same, but Barth’s Mercedes ran over Lane and the tow dolly.

Accident reconstructionist James Crawford testified that Fury had the flashing hazard lights of the truck on and the tow dolly’s lights were on at the time of the accident, which occurred in the early evening. Crawford also said the highway streetlights along with the Mercedes’ headlights provided enough visibility to see the stalled truck from up to 500 feet away, giving Barth enough time to avoid the accident.

Reconstructionist Timothy Tuttle, testifying on behalf of Barth, said the lighting only made the truck visible from 150 feet away, giving Barth less than 1.7 seconds to react. Barth testified he was following another car about six car lengths ahead of him, but did not recall what happened to the car and his first recollection of a problem is when he struck the tow dolly. Judge McGrath said Tuttle’s conclusion did not explain how so many other vehicles avoided the accident.

“The court finds Crawford’s testimony regarding the point at which Barth should have been able to see the objects to be persuasive. Indeed, it appears from Barth’s own testimony that he was not paying attention to the roadway in front of him inasmuch as Barth is unable to explain the disappearance of the car directly in front of him and is unable to recall seeing the stopped pickup truck or (Lane) prior to impact,” Judge McGrath wrote.

Judge McGrath said Gary Fury’s failure to ensure the tow dolly was attached and operational, and his failure to proceed to the road’s shoulder contributed to the cause of the accident. He said Lane’s decision to exit the truck and connect the dolly rather than summon emergency assistance also contributed to the accident.

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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