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Cases Currently Pending In The Ohio Supreme Court

The following cases are currently pending in the Ohio Supreme Court because the Court agreed to review the decisions of the Ohio Courts of Appeals in those cases.  In Ohio, the Supreme Court, for the most part, has the discretion to decide whether to review a decision of an Ohio Court of Appeals, such that it does not hear that many cases and very few Ohio attorneys are experienced with practice in the Ohio Supreme Court.  The Ohio Supreme Court has recently agreed to review the following decisions (this list will be updated on a monthly basis):

Miller v. Motorists Mut. Ins. Co., Sup. Ct. Case No. 2012-0053 (Ct. App. Portage Cty., 2011-Ohio-6099)

On July 12, 2008, Daniel Masterson was operating a motor vehicle westbound on State Route 5 when he lost control of his vehicle and veered into the eastbound lane of traffic and collided with two of the several motorcycles that were being operated eastbound on State Route 5. Mr. Masterson first collided with a motorcycle driven by David Perrine (after which Michael Reese, who was operating a motorcycle behind the motorcycle operated by Mr. Perrine, was unable to avoid, and collided with, the motorcycle operated by David Perrine after it was struck by the Masterson vehicle-the Reese motorcycle was not struck by the Masterson vehicle). The vehicle operated by Mr. Masterson then struck a second motorcycle, one operated by Jeffrey Davis, and traveled back across the westbound lanes where it collided with a guardrail.

The issue in the case is whether Mr. Masterson's insurance policy issued by Motorists Mutual Insurance Company, which had liability limits of $100,000 per person $300,000 per accident, applied separately to each of the collisions in which the Masterson vehicle was involved. The injured parties argued that there were two "accidents": the first "accident" being the collision between the vehicle operated by Mr. Masterson and the motorcycle operated by Mr. Perrine, and the second "accident" being the collision between the vehicle operated by Mr. Masterson and the motorcycle operated by Mr. Davis (there did not appear to be a claim that the collision between the motorcycle's operated by Mr. Perrine and Mr. Reese constituted a third "accident").

The insurance company argued that the series of collisions constituted one "accident" because there was one cause, the negligence of Mr. Masterson in the operation of a motor vehicle, regardless of how many effects resulted from that single cause. The injured parties, on the other hand, argued that each of the two collisions in which the Masterson vehicle was involved was a different "accident" for purposes of the insurance coverage. The trial court granted summary judgment to the insurance company, finding that the series of collisions constituted a single "accident."

The insurance company urged the Court of Appeals to apply the "causation approach" and to affirm the Trial Court's conclusion that there was only one "accident," but the Court of Appeals noted that the cases upon which the insurance company relied in making this argument involved policies that defined the word "accident" as "a sudden, unexpected and unattended event, or a continuous or repeated exposure to substantially the same conditions." The Court of Appeals noted that the Motorists Mutual Insurance Company policy did not contain such language, such that it would be construed in favor of the insured, and noted that an ordinary person could reasonably conclude that there were two "accidents" in this case. The Court of Appeals also concluded that, even if it adopted the causation approach advocated by the insurance company, there were still two "accidents." Although the injuries to Mr. Perrine and Mr. Reese, which resulted from the collision between the Masterson vehicle and the motorcycle operated by Mr. Perrine, would constitute a single "accident" under the causation approach, the collision between the Masterson vehicle and the motorcycle operated by Mr. Reese would constitute a second "accident" because it was a separate collision:

In considering the cause of [Mr. Perrine's and Mr. Reese's and their passengers'] injuries as compared to the cause of...Mr. Davis's [and his passenger's] injuries, they appear decidedly different. The injuries to the former group are as a direct result of Mr. Masterson's collision with Mr. Perrine's motorcycle. ***Mr. Davis's [and his passenger's] injuries, however, do not stem from that collision; instead, they are a direct result of an independent collision between Mr. Masterson's vehicle and [Mr. Davis's] motorcycle.

On appeal to the Supreme Court, the insurance company advances the following proposition of law which the Court, over the dissents of Chief justice O'Connor and Justices Pfeifer and Lanzinger, agreed to review:

Proposition of Law No. One: When there is but one proximate, uninterrupted and continuing cause of a motor vehicle accident involving multiple vehicles, the "causation approach" applies and requires a finding that a single "accident" occurred for purposes of liability coverage under an insurance policy, even if the word "accident" is not defined in the policy.

The Court, however, over the dissents of Justices Lundberg Stratton, O'Donnell, and Cupp, refused to accept jurisdiction over Proposition of Law No. Two:

Proposition of law No. Two: The undefined word "accident" in a liability insurance policy is not ambiguous when the policy, interpreted as a whole, establishes the intent of the parties that multiple vehicles may be involved in and multiple claims may arise out of a single auto accident.

Riffle v. Physicians & Surgeons Ambulance Serv., Sup. Ct. Case No. 2012-0205 (Ct. App. Summit Cty., 2011-Ohio-6595)

Mrs. Riffle called 911 reporting that she was in her third trimester of pregnancy and was experiencing serious bleeding. Paramedics employed by the City of Akron arrived and took her vital signs, but did not take the vital signs of her unborn child, and, instead of taking her to the hospital, called American Medical Response, a private entity, to transport her to the hospital. At the hospital it was determined that the child was suffering from fetal bradycardia and an emergency C-section was performed, but, tragically, the baby died three days later. Mr. and Mrs. Riffle sued the City of Akron, the paramedics who came to her house, and American Medical Response, for causing their daughter's death.

The City moved for summary judgment claiming that it was immune from liability under R.C. 2744.02 because the provision of emergency medical services is a governmental function and none of the exceptions to immunity set forth in R.C. Chap. 2744 applied. The plaintiffs argued that R.C. 2744.02(B)(5) provided that the City was not immune if another statute expressly imposed liability, and that R.C. 4765.49 expressly imposed liability for willful and wanton misconduct by paramedics. The Court of Appeals, however, disagreed, and held that because R.C. 4765.49 applied to both private and public governmental entities it could not be read to expressly impose liability upon the political subdivision.

But, the Court of Appeals then agreed with the plaintiffs' argument that, because both R.C. 2744.02 and R.C. 4765.49 applied to the same subject matter, i.e., the liability of paramedics and their employers, and they were in conflict, the more specific provisions of R.C. 4765.49 , rather than the general provisions of R.C. 2744.02, applied, such that the City could be held liable under R.C. 4765.49.

On appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court, the City advances the following proposition of law, which the Court, over the dissents of Chief Justice O'Connor, and Justices Pfeifer and O'Donnell, agreed to review:

R.C. 4765.49 does not conflict with R.C. 2744.02 under a R.C. 1.51 analysis, but serves as an additional immunity defense under R.C. 2744.03(A)(7).

Armstrong v. John R. Jurgenson Co., Sup. Ct. Case No. 2012-0244 (Ct. App. Clark Cty., 2011-Ohio-6708)

The plaintiff in this case was employed as a dump truck driver by the Jurgenson Company and was involved in a motor vehicle collision in which his fully loaded dump truck was struck in the rear by a van traveling a high rate of speed, killing the driver of the van. The plaintiff made a claim for the physical injuries he sustained in the accident, and was then diagnosed as suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder, such that his workers compensation claim was amended to include the PTSD. The claim for PTSD was allowed by the Industrial Commission, but the employer appealed to the Court of Common Pleas.

The parties stipulated that the plaintiff did suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder as a result of the motor vehicle collision, but, at trial, expert testimony was elicited to the effect that the PTSD was not caused by his physical injuries, but rather by the mental distress associated with witnessing the accident and the death of the other driver. The trial court therefore concluded that the claim for PTSD was not compensable because it did not arise out of the employee's own physical injuries.

The plaintiff appealed, and Court of Appeals first noted that R.C. 4123.01(C) states that "injury" does not include "psychiatric conditions except where the claimant's psychiatric conditions have arisen from an injury or occupational disease sustained by the claimant...." The Court of Appeals observed that the phrase "sustained by that claimant" was added to the statute by a 2006 amendment, and indicated that this additional language was added to the statute in response to the holding in Bailey v. Republic Engineered Steels, inc., 2001-Ohio-236, 91 Ohio St. 3d 38, which the Court of Appeals indicated had held that a "psychiatric condition arising from a compensable injury suffered by a third party was not precluded from the definition of an injury under the terms of R.C. 4123.01(C).' The Court of Appeals, therefore, rejected the plaintiff's argument that, to be compensable, the psychiatric condition need only be contemporaneous with a compensable physical injury, and instead concluded that the psychiatric condition must have arisen from an injury to the claimant, rather than arising out of, for example, witnessing an injury to, or the death of, a third person.

Judge Fain dissented and indicated that the workers' compensation statutes are to be liberally construed in favor of the employee, and "that a liberal construction of R.C. 4123.01(C) would require us to hold that a psychological or psychiatric condition is compensable if it otherwise meets requirements for participation in the workers' compensation system and is contemporaneous with a compensable physical entry."

On appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court the employee advances the following propositions of law, which the Court, over the dissent of Justice O'Donnell, agreed to review.

Proposition of Law 1: Psychological conditions which arise contemporaneous to work related physical injuries are compensable under the Ohio Workers' Compensation system. The appellate court decision that contemporaneous psychological conditions are not compensable was in error, as it directly contrasts McCrone v. Bank One Corp. (2005), 107 Ohio St. 3d 272, and a host of other decisions indicating that such conditions are compensable.

Proposition of Law 2: The addition of the words "sustained by that claimant" to R.C. 4123.01(C) should not force the Court to abandon its long-standing policy that psychological conditions sustained contemporaneous to physical injuries are compensable. That language merely intends to bar psychological conditions sustained contemporaneous to injuries suffered by individuals other than the claimant in question.

Marusa v. Erie Ins. Co, Sup. Ct. Case Nos. 2012-0058 (Ct. App. Cuyahoga Cty., 2011-Ohio-6276)

Maria and Melanie Marusa were injured in a motor vehicle accident that took place in 2009 which was caused by a North Royalton police officer who was responding to an emergency call. The Marusas made claims for the uninsured motorist coverage provided for in their policy of insurance issued by Erie, but their claims were denied and the Marusas filed suit. The parties stipulated that the collision was caused by the negligent operation of the police cruiser, that the Marusas were not negligent, that the police officer and his employer were immune, and that the police officer was defined as an "uninsured motorist" under the terms of the policy. The insurer, however, relying upon the Ohio Supreme Court's decision in Snyder v. Am. Fam. Ins. Co., 2007-Ohio-4004, 114 Ohio St. 3d 239, held that, even though both the statute (RC 3937.18), and the Erie policy defined an immune tortfeasor as an uninsured motorist, the policy also required that the plaintiffs be "legally entitled to recover" from the operator of an uninsured motor vehicle, such that, because the plaintiffs were not legally entitled recover from the police officer due to his immunity, there was no valid claim for uninsured motorist coverage. The Court of Appeals reluctantly followed the Supreme Court's decision in Snyder:

We do not believe that Snyder advances the public policy that "predominant social purpose of liability insurance is to compensate injured persons." Stickovich v. Cleveland, 143 Ohio App. 3d 13, 25.... But we are duty bound to follow it. Reluctantly, therefore, in light of Snyder, the Marusas' two assignments of error are without merit and the trial court's judgment is affirmed.

Judge Stewart dissented and argued that the claim should have been allowed because the policy expressly extended uninsured motorists coverage to pay for injuries sustained from a motor vehicle collision caused by a person who is an immune under the political subdivision tort liability law, and that the phrase "legally entitled recover" should not be permitted to negate that coverage:

UM coverage is designed just for these types of situations, yet court decisions have effectively denied a significant number of people insurance coverage that they pay for, and think they have, but do not. This is an intolerable state of the law and one I hope this quickly rectified.

On appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court, the insureds advance the following proposition of law, which the Court, over the dissent of Justice O'Donnell, agreed to review:

Proposition of Law No. 1: A policy provision defining an uninsured/underinsured motor vehicle as one "for which the owner or operator of the 'motor vehicle' has immunity under the Ohio Political Subdivision Tort Liability Law [Ohio Revised Code Chapter 2744.]" is enforceable and waives the defense of statutory immunity when read in conjunction with provision in the insuring agreement that requires an insured to be legally entitled recover from the owner or operator of an uninsured or underinsured motor vehicle.

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