YOUNGSTOWN Ohio high court returns suit for wrongful death to trial level
A Youngstown mother sued the business and the security guard who shot her son.
By MICHELE C. HLADIK
COLUMBUS -- Ohio companies are responsible for the negligence of private contractors if the contractors' work is determined to be inherently dangerous, the Ohio Supreme Court has ruled.
The court voted 7-0 Wednesday to send back to trial court the wrongful death lawsuit a Youngstown mother filed on behalf of her son who was killed by a security guard while in the parking lot of Greif Bros. Corp., a Youngstown steel drum manufacturing plant on the city's South Side.
A corporation lawyer said he had not seen the court ruling and would need to consult with company officials before making any comment.
Justice Andrew Douglas wrote the court's official opinion. He said that an employer is generally not responsible for the actions of an independent contractor but that there are exceptions to the rule.
Inherently dangerous work is considered one exception.
"Work is inherently dangerous when it creates a peculiar risk of harm to others unless special precautions are taken," Justice Douglas wrote.
1991 shooting death: The case stems from the 1991 shooting death of Derrell Pusey by a security guard.
Greif Bros. decided to hire security guards in 1987 after several incidents of trespassers' stealing things from the parking lot on Williamson Avenue. The guards, from Youngstown Security Patrol Inc., were brought in to deter thefts and vandalism.
But according to the decision, the contract between Greif Bros. and the security company did not specify how the guards should protect the property.
Although hired as an unarmed guard, Eric Bator carried a gun in his briefcase to the job.
Bator said he caught Pusey and Charles Thomas walking through the parking lot and, after exchanging words with the pair, had them lie on the ground.
Lawsuit: The case shows that Bator said he saw Pusey make a sudden movement and shot him. Pusey later died of the gunshot injury to the back of the head. His mother, Ethel Pusey, filed a wrongful death suit against Bator, the security company and the manufacturer in 1992.
Both Bator and Youngstown Security settled and only Greif Bros. remained in the suit.
Both the trial court and the 7th District Court of Appeals found in favor of Greif Bros. and said the business was not responsible for the security company's negligence.
But the high court disagreed and found there was reason to send the case back to the trial court for further hearings.
Reaction: Atty. Percy Squire, who represented Ethel Pusey, said in a statement, "It is a shame it has taken 10 years for the Pusey family to receive the basic justice that ought to come to every citizen automatically.
"I am extremely grateful to the Ohio Supreme Court for this decision, and look forward to the opportunity to fully vindicate the rights of the Pusey family."
According to the decision, if the common pleas court determines the guard to be negligent, Greif Bros. will be liable for damages.
"We find that work such as [the security company] was hired to perform does create a peculiar risk of harm to others," Justice Douglas wrote. "When armed guards are hired to deter vandals and thieves it is foreseeable that someone might be injured by the inappropriate use of the weapon if proper precautions are not taken."