Posted: February 16, 2012
As an Injury Lawyer for over 30 years I've seen the ball swing back and forth between the rights of personal injury victims and those that wrongfully cause them harm. However the ball has stuck in favor of wrongdoers for many years now in Ohio and in other states. Just today the Ohio State Supreme Court ruled in favor of so called Tort Reform with its decision in Havel v Villa ruling that if requested a judge must grant a separate trial of the compensatory damage issue and the punitive damage issue. Compensatory damages are to make up for the injuries caused to the wrongfully harmed injury victim. Punitive damages are to punish the wrongdoer for conduct that is more than negligence, but involves the failure to exhibit care under circumstances that there is a high probability of harm. For example a jury can award punitive damages in a drunk driving car accident injury case. Prior law was that a judge had the discretion to bifurcate or grant separate trials. As a lawyer that has won a jury verdict against Time Warner for punitive damages I must again say that we need to trust in the jury system. The punitive damages in the case I handled were not particularly large because in part due to the injury to the plaintiff was not that severe. The punishment fit the "crime" so to speak. The Court's ruling had legislative big business tort reform rationale behind it that juries can not be trusted. The case dealt with a person in a nursing home that died from a bed sore. The court ruled the trial of punitive and compensatory damages must be separate. The Court quoted the language of the state legislature that stated" The current civil litigation system represents a challenge to the economy of the State of Ohio.(what evidence did the legislature have. i submit not one iota.) The legislature opined that reform of punitive damage law was urgently needed. The legislature went further in their misguided notion and said that while pain and suffering awards are inherently subjective non economic damages, which are intended to compensate for the person's loss, it is believed that the inflation of noneconomic damages is partially due to the improper consideration of evidence of wrongdoing in assessing pain and suffering damages. Inflated damage awards create an improper resolution of civil justice claims. the increased and improper costs of litigation and the resulting rise in insurance premiums is passed on to the general public through higher prices and services.In cases in which punitive damages are requested, defendants should have the right to request bifurcation of a trial to ensure that evidence of misconduct is not improperly considered by the jury in its determination of liability and compensatory damages. As additional protection, trial and appellate courts should rigorously review pain and suffering awards to ensure that they properly serve compensatory purposes and are not excessive. So the Court and the legislature are to blame in my opinion for this protection of big business interests and the erosion of citizens rights and cite no evidence to back up their opinion. By the way does anyone know the political party of the judges on the Ohio Supreme Court. Their party affiliation is not even put on the ballot.