A civil trial jury on Friday found no negligence on the part of the Paint Valley Supply company or the driver of a truck involved in a woman’s death in 2010, and refused to award damages sought by the woman’s husband.
A jury of eight – four men and four women – issued its verdict early Friday afternoon after a trial that began Monday in Highland County. The trial was presided over by visiting Judge Dale Crawford.
The case was a wrongful death action, with the deceased woman’s husband seeking compensatory damages of several million dollars.
Nathaniel Berry of Danville Road near Hillsboro, husband of Heather Berry, claimed that on March 8, 2010, Paint Valley Supply was negligent because it failed to use “ordinary care” to protect his wife from injury on its premises of the former West Walnut Street business, and that the negligence was responsible for her death when she was struck by a truck which was backing up on the property.
But the jury decided that the preponderance of the evidence – which is the standard used in a civil case – showed that Heather Berry was “100 percent” negligent in the case.
According to court filings, Heather Berry went to Paint Valley Supply on March 8, 2010 to deliver office keys to her husband, a Paint Valley employee, so he could open a warehouse door.
“While Ms. Berry was leaving, (Bradley) Williams was making a delivery to Paint Valley operating a truck owned by Defendant, William Baldwin Sr.” Baldwin was dismissed as a defendant prior to the trial.
“After Ms. Berry left her husband she was on the delivery ramp, talking on her cell phone, when Mr. Williams backed the truck down the delivery ramp striking Ms. Berry causing her death,” according to a description of events in one court filing.
According to supporting documents in the case, a motor carrier enforcement officer for the Ohio State Highway Patrol inspected the 25,950 pound truck involved in the accident, and found six violations of the Ohio Administrative Code, including an inoperable horn and back-up lights that were not working.
But the defense argued that Heather Berry was on a cell phone and “inattentive” while walking behind the truck. Various witnesses and experts testified during the trial.
While the civil trial standard requires just six of the eight jurors to make a determination, all eight jurors on Friday found in favor of Paint Valley Supply and Williams.
Nathaniel Berry’s initial filing stated that “there was a walk-in door inside the grain receiving pit and according to Paint Valley Supply’s owner, pedestrians would walk up the ramp to the grain receiving pit, walk inside the pit and enter the business through that door.”
The filing added, “Paint Valley Supply’s owner had seen Heather Renee Berry in the past walk up to the ramp to the grain receiving pit to enter the business through the door located inside the pit area and he never told her this was not permitted.”
The suit claimed that earlier, in 2007, William Baldwin was delivering a load of corn to Paint Valley Supply and drove into the pit with an overweight load and broke the scales. From that time on, all commercial trucks “had to back the trucks up the ramp to the grain receiving pit.” The suit claimed that the company failed to initiate various safety fixes that could have prevented the accident involving Heather Berry.
According to a report from the Hillsboro Police Department at the time, the accident was reported through a 911 call placed at 9:33 a.m. on March 8, 2010.
The police report states that a Paint Valley Supply employee who witnessed the accident said that he “had observed Mrs. Berry talking on her cell phone walking around the ramp of the pit.” At the same time, “he observed Bradley Williams driving a grain truck to the bottom of the ramp.”
The report states, “A few seconds passed and (the witness) stated that as he continued working he heard a scream and turned and observed the truck backing over top of Mrs. Berry. Mrs. Berry was in the lane of travel for the truck when she was struck. (The witness) said that he screamed at Mrs. Berry to move out of the way but that it was too late, and that he then tried to scream at Bradley Williams to stop the truck, but that it was again too late…”
The witness and Williams attempted to administer CPR to Heather Berry until EMS arrived, according to the police report.
The police report states that after conferring with both the city law director and the county prosecutor, neither misdemeanor nor felony charges could be filed “based on current evidence known to law enforcement.”
While seven jurors agreed Friday that Paint Valley Supply failed to maintain an “appropriate standard of care,” all eight also agreed that such failure was not the cause of the accident, with all eight agreeing that Heather Berry was negligent in the incident, with that negligence causing her death.
The jury could have assigned various percentages of negligence to Heather Berry, Paint Valley Supply and Bradley Williams, but assigned 100 percent of the negligence to Heather Berry.
Cincinnati attorney Ray C. Freudiger of Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin, who represented Williams, said later Friday, “Juries usually get it right.” He said that while “our system is not perfect,” the jury deliberated all of Friday morning and “it was the right decision.”
Nathaniel Berry’s attorney could not immediately be reached.
In a criminal case, juries must find guilt or innocence based on evidence beyond a reasonable doubt. In a civil case, the standard of preponderance of the evidence “is evidence that is more probable, more persuasive or of greater probative value,” according to a jury instruction in the case.
Nathaniel Berry was represented by Columbus attorneys Douglas Sutter and Phillip Eckenrode of Hahn Loeser & Parks, along with J. Michael Dobyns of Wilmington. Paint Valley Supply was represented by Columbus attorney Timothy J. Ryan of Gallagher Garns Pryor Tallan & Littrell. Along with Freudiger, Williams was represented by Hillsboro attorney J. Allyce Horne.
Reach Angela Shepherd or Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456.