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An Easily Accessible Coffee Pot Is Not A “Physical Defect” For Purposes Of The Political Subdivision Immunity Exceptions

In the case of Moss v. Lorain Bd. of Mental Retardation, 2016-Ohio-169, a student alleged that a board of developmental disabilities negligently and carelessly designed, constructed, and maintained a classroom kitchen that – according to the student – contained physical hazards that threatened the safety of the class because the student spilled coffee from a coffee pot on himself. McGown & Markling Co., L.P.A. represented the defendants in this case.

The central issue before the Ninth Appellate District was whether “an easily accessible pot of hot coffee unprotected on a countertop in the kitchen area of the classroom is a physical defect” for purposes of the “physical defect” exception to political subdivision immunity. Moss at ¶ 12. The Ninth District concluded that an easily accessible pot of hot coffee does not constitute a physical defect because “[t]here is nothing in the record to suggest that anything in the kitchen did not perform as intended or was less useful than designed.” Moss at ¶ 14.

On May 18, 2016, the Ohio Supreme Court declined to accept jurisdiction over the appeal. As a result, the Ninth Appellate District’s decision is binding authority in Lorain, Medina, Wayne, and Summit counties, and persuasive authority throughout the State of Ohio.

This decision is significant as it clarifies that courts will, generally, find that political subdivisions are immune from injuries caused by objects unless a plaintiff can demonstrate that the object at issue contains a perceivable imperfection that diminishes its worth or utility. Here, the student could not demonstrate that the pot of hot coffee contained a perceivable imperfection – even though it was easily accessible to students. In other words, the simple presence of a coffee pot in a classroom, which performs as intended, does not in and of itself create a physical defect.

To read this case, please click here.

Authors: Matthew John Markling and Patrick Vrobel

Note: This blog entry does not constitute – nor does it contain – legal advice. Legal jurisprudence is like the always changing Midwestern weather. As a result, this single blog entry cannot substitute for consultation with a McGown & Markling attorney. If legal advice is needed with respect to a specific factual situation, please feel free to contact a McGown & Markling attorney.

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