Ohio Law Series

Punitive Damages / Attorney Fees (The “Lodestar” calculation)

Ohio adheres to the “American Rule” regarding attorney fees, which means each party is responsible for its own attorney fees:

Ohio courts generally follow the “American rule” with respect to an award of attorney fees: each party is responsible for its own attorney fees. Wilborn v. Bank One Corp., 121 Ohio St.3d 546, 2009-Ohio-306, 906 N.E.2d 396, ¶ 7. An exception to the American rule allows an award of attorney fees to the prevailing party as an element of compensatory damages when the jury finds that punitive damages are warranted. Zoppo v. Homestead Ins. Co., 71 Ohio St.3d 552, 558, 644 N.E.2d 397 (1994); New York, Chicago & St. Louis RR. Co. v. Grodek, 127 Ohio St. 22, 24-25, 186 N.E. 733 (1933) (“facts which justify the infliction of exemplary damages will also justify the jury in adding the amount of counsel fees to the verdict, not as a part of exemplary damages, but as compensatory damages”). See Galmish v. Cicchini, 90 Ohio St.3d 22, 35, 734 N.E.2d 782 (2000).

When attorney fees are recoverable, the calculation is sometimes difficult. In Phoenix Lighting Group, LLC v. Genlyte Thomas Group, LLC, 2020-Ohio-1056, the Ohio Supreme Court held:

  1. There is a strong presumption that the reasonable hourly rate multiplied by the number of hours worked, which is sometimes referred to as the “lodestar,” is the proper amount for an attorney-fee award. Enhancements to the lodestar should be granted rarely and are appropriate when an attorney produces objective and specific evidence that an enhancement of the lodestar is necessary to account for a factor not already subsumed in the lodestar calculation. (Perdue v. Kenny A., 559 U.S. 542, 130 S.Ct. 1662, 176 L.Ed.2d 494 (2010), followed; Bittner v. Tri-County Toyota, Inc., 58 Ohio St.3d 143, 569 N.E.2d 464 (1991), modified.)
  2. A trial court has discretion to modify the presumptive calculation of attorney fees – the reasonable hourly rate multiplied by the number of hours worked – but any modification must be accompanied by a rationale justifying the modification.