In 2005, the Ohio General Assembly passed several “tort reform” measures, the most controversial being the limits on the amount a jury can award in personal injury and product liability cases. (See RC 2315.18). Under the 2005 rules, a plaintiff cannot recover more than the greater of (1) $250,000 or (2) three times the economic damages up to a maximum of $350,000, or $500,000 per single occurrence.

These limits do not apply to catastrophic injuries, defined as “permanent and substantial physical deformity, loss of use of a limb, or loss of a bodily organ system,” or “permanent physical functional injury that permanently prevents the injured person from being able to independently care for self and perform life-sustaining activities.” These changes went into effect on April 7, 2005.

This statute was challenged on constitutional grounds. In Arbino v. Johnson & Johnson, 116 Ohio St.3d 468 (2007), the Ohio Supreme Court held that this and other tort reform provisions do not violate the Ohio Constitution.

Comments

These limits do not apply to medical malpractice cases (which have their own set of caps), wrongful death cases, or cases involving catastrophic injuries (as defined in the statute). It would be unusual for a jury to award noneconomic damages (e.g. pain and suffering) in excess of $250,000 if the injury is not catastrophic. So, in reality, this statute will not affect that many cases.

A main problem with caps is that it emboldens defendants to defend cases more aggressively. The claimant (plaintiff) must invest the time and expense of presenting the case at trial, and cannot recover above the cap. So we are as a practical matter forced to accept a lower amount. Risk drives settlements. If we remove the risk of a large verdict against the defendant, we’ll get fewer and lower settlements, and more trials.