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The Recent Impact of Tort Reform; Is this the “Fair and Predictable System of Civil Justice” Intended by the Ohio General Assembly? 

Effective April 7, 2005, the Ohio General Assembly enacted R.C. 2315.18 as part of a broader tort-reform bill. R.C. 2315.18(B)(2) establishes a cap on compensatory tort damages for "noneconomic loss, " which includes but is not limited to "pain and suffering, loss of society, consortium, companionship, care, assistance, attention, protection, advice, guidance, counsel, instruction, training, or education, disfigurement, mental anguish, and any other intangible loss.” Generally speaking, caps are set at $250,000 to $350,000.

According to the Ohio General Assembly, tort reform was passed purportedly in the interest in "a fair, predictable system of civil justice" that preserves the rights of injured parties while curbing frivolous lawsuits, which increase the costs of doing business, threaten Ohio jobs, drive up consumer costs, and may hinder innovation.”

The damage caps on noneconomic loss do not apply where the noneconomic loss is for "permanent and substantial physical deformity, loss of use of a limb, or loss of a bodily organ system" or for "permanent physical functional injury that permanently prevents the injured person from being able to independently care for self and perform life-sustaining activities.

Very recently, in Simpkins v. Grace Brethren Church of Delaware, 2016-Ohio-8118, 2014-1953, the Ohio Supreme Court applied the damage caps on noneconomic damages to reduce a $3,500,000 jury verdict in favor of a young girl who was forcibly raped by her minister to $350,000. While the jury determined the young girl’s noneconomic damages totaled $3,500,000, the Supreme Court, applying the tort reform statute, found her damages were properly reduced to $350,000.

The majority of the Ohio Supreme Court found that application of the damage caps to a minor who was the victim of sexual assault does not violate the minor's constitutional rights to a jury trial, to a remedy and open courts, to equal protection, and to due process.

Two Justices dissented. Justice O’Neill, with Justice Pfeifer concurring, wrote: “This child was raped in a church office by a minister, and a duly empaneled jury established an appropriate level of compensation for the loss of her childhood innocence. We have no right to interfere with that process. Shame on the General Assembly. The children are watching. And I for one do not like what they are seeing.”

To Justice O’Neil’s dissent one might add that, not only has the Ohio General Assembly preordained a formula to place a cap on the amount of noneconomic damages a young girl might obtain from a rapist as determined by a duly empaneled jury of our peers, the Ohio General Assembly has preordained that in certain circumstances an individual can receive treble (or triple) damages in the event of the willful destruction of trees (R.C. 901.51), for certain unfair consumer sales practices (1345.092), and for damages in civil action to enforce publicity right (2741.07(D)).

It is unfortunate that the Ohio General Assembly has placed a premium on vines, bushes, trees, or crops on land of another, while in the name of creating a fair, predictable system of civil justice, has preordained a formula to place a cap on the amount of noneconomic damages a young girl might obtain from a rapist.

While the civil justice system shouldn’t be this complicated; regrettably, it is. Should you have questions regarding the civil justice system, please feel free to contact Scott D. Smpkins at 216-621-8484.