Sixteen years ago, in 2005, Ohio became subject to tort reform, which limited monetary damages on certain types of civil lawsuits. When a jury decides a civil suit, such as a personal injury case or a sexual abuse case, they may award damages to the victim. In 2005, Ohio Legislators imposed limits on what Ohio Courts could award for non-economic damages (compensation for what is commonly referred to as “pain and suffering”) — even if a jury believes more should be paid.
In the 1970s, many states enacted tort reform after medical malpractice insurers suddenly stopped renewing policies for physicians. The damage caps that many other states enacted became law when Senate Bill 80 was signed into law by Governor Bob Taft on January 6, 2005.
At the time, advocates for the tort reform claimed SB80 balanced the interests of plaintiffs and defendants. While SB80 did offer some protection for victims of catastrophic injuries, it left other victims vulnerable and without protection. For example, when a jury awarded $20 million to Amanda Brandt, who suffered horrific sexual abuse as an 11-year-old, the Cleveland-based 8th Ohio District Court of Appeals ruled the damages should be reduced to $250,000.
Under Ohio Revised Code §2315.18, victims can recover the greater amount of (a) $250,000 or (b) three times economic (calculable) damages, which is subject to a maximum of $350,000 per person and/or $500,000 per accident. When the victim suffers a catastrophic loss or a permanent physical injury that prevents them from caring for themselves, these caps on damages will not apply. Unfortunately, what constitutes a permanent injury can vary from one courtroom to another.
With next year’s election, the political control of the Ohio Supreme Court is on the line. Three of its seven judge seats will be on the ballot, including the chief justiceship and the seats held by Justices Patrick DeWine and Patrick Fischer. Justice Kennedy will be running for Chief Justice. All three candidates, Kennedy, DeWine, and Fischer, voted against hearing Amanda Brandt’s damages appeal. Changes in the court seats could open the door to changes in tort reform.
As personal injury lawyers, we have seen firsthand that emotional injuries affect people’s lives just as much as physical injuries. The only entities that benefit from tort reform limits are the mega corporations and large institutions that look the other way and fail to protect the most vulnerable. As we look to the future, we will continue to encourage our fellow Ohioans to not vote for those that deny access to justice for children and families and individuals who have been harmed. We hope you will join us in fighting for justice for victims like Amanda Brandt.