Lawsuit reform will eventually change state

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 6, 2005

With the stroke of a pen, the future of business in Ohio will change forever today - but none of us may feel the change for quite a while.

Gov. Bob Taft is expected to sign a truly meaningful piece of legislation today - tort reform. The question of the day is: How long will it take to prove the new law will stand?

Almost six years after the Ohio Supreme Court ruled a similar law limiting personal injury lawsuits was unconstitutional, the governor's signature today will put a new law on the books.

Email newsletter signup

So what's the purpose of the law? Does it interfere with the public's constitutional right to a jury trial?

Not from our perspective.

The new law does a number of things, most important among them, is capping both pain and suffering damages and punitive damages.

Pain and suffering claims will be capped between $350,000 and $500,000. Punitive damages are limited to twice the combination of lost wages, medical expenses and pain and suffering for cases involving large companies. The same damages for smaller companies would be capped at $350,000.

Catastrophic injury cases, such as those involving the loss of a limb, will have no caps and will give judges more leeway in determining if and when awards deemed extravagant are needed.

So why is all of this necessary? Because a few among us have consistently abused the law to the point at which it now hampers business and is often listed as an excuse for higher insurance rates.

Supporters of the new law say it reduces the wildly fluctuating risks insurers must undertake. The result of limiting that risk, they say, will eventually be lower insurance rates. That possibility piques the interest of most folks.

Critics argue that the law will do little to reduce insurance rates and that the law only further restricts a resident's constitutional rights. It is, in fact, unlikely that insurance providers will lower rates anytime soon. Until the law is tested and ultimately proven constitutional in a court challenge, insurers would be remiss to even think about lowering rates.

We don't think the law, as written, severely limits one's constitutional rights. In fact, it simply provides a common sense check over a litigious system in which many people have abused to their own monetary benefit.

Ultimately, the law should change the way businesses operate in the state, but don't hold your breath.