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Thursday, March 6th, 2014

Court rules in favor of county, worker in suit

Case stems from 2011 motorcycle-loader crash

By Kathy Thompson
The Third District Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of Mercer County and one of its employees in a lawsuit over the traffic death of a 90-year-old Fort Recovery man more than two years ago.
Ralph S. Ranly was driving a 1976 Kawasaki eastbound on Fort Recovery-Minster Road on Aug. 16, 2011, when his motorcycle collided with a gravel loader operated by county employee Darren G. Porter. Ranly was ejected from the motorcycle and died from his injuries 18 days later.
In 2013, Ranly's relatives and executor of his estate, Ann Hopkins, asked the court to hold the county and Porter responsible for Ranly's death.
Mercer County Assistant Prosecutor Amy Ikerd and attorney William Lang on behalf of the county, asked that the county and Porter be dismissed from the lawsuit.
Visiting Judge William H. Wolff Jr. ruled on the matter in Mercer County Common Pleas Court and dismissed the county (board of commissioners) from liability on the grounds that government entities are immune from such lawsuits. The judge found Porter immune from liability for any willful or wanton conduct but gave him no immunity from liability for reckless conduct. He ruled that a jury could reasonably find Porter to be reckless.
The Third District Court of Appeals disagreed, stating "this was an unfortunate accident resulting from Porter's failure to yield to a motorcyclist, and that Porter was not reckless, as he and other crew members took numerous precautions to avoid the accident.
"No evidence was presented to suggest that Porter, or any other county employee, did anything out-of-the-ordinary causing the accident," the appeals court ruled. "For his part, Porter used all of the warning signals available to him, including a slow-moving vehicle sign, four-way hazard lights and a strobe light."
Attorney for the Ranly case, Timothy S. Chappars, said earlier this week he had not yet seen the ruling and did not feel comfortable commenting. Mercer County Prosecutor Matt Fox declined to comment.
The wrongful death lawsuit in Mercer County claimed the county was not diligent in warning motorists of the roadwork being done in the area of Fort Recovery-Minster Road on Aug. 16, 2011, when the accident occurred. It also stated Porter, 40, was reckless in using a gravel loader and caused the motorcycle Ranly was driving to crash into the county vehicle.
The county claimed Porter had activated a warning strobe light and emergency flashing lights while working on the road and had a two-way radio to communicate with other employees.
Porter did not see any traffic and did not hear another employee yell a warning as Ranly approached on the cycle. Ranly was thrown from the bike upon impact, according to court records.
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