Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ohio Supreme Court Upholds 2005 Tort Reform Statute

On February 15, in a 5-2 decision, the Ohio Supreme Court upheld the mandatory bifurcation provision of the punitive damages statute that was adopted in 2005.  Before 2005, trials could only be bifurcated at the discretion of the trial court judge if the judge believed it would promote convenience, avoid prejudice, or when it would be economically prudent or efficient to do so.  Under the statute adopted in 2005, upon the motion of either party, the trial is divided into two phases.  The first phase is only about compensatory damages; no evidence related to the claim of punitive damages is permitted.  If the plaintiff is successful in the first phase and is awarded compensatory damages, then a second trial is held on the question of punitive damages. The case is called Havel v. Villa St. Joseph and it is available here.

I have no opinion as to whether the statute is constitutional, but I have a different question: is it a good idea?  Why would you want to force the court to order the parties to go through two separate trials to litigate the same matter twice?  I am assuming the second trial would be tried before a different jury which will require the parties to re-litigate at least some part of the original trial a second time.  I am not sure this is a smart use of resources and I am not sure the clients would be all that happy to have to pay for legal fees for more time/work, etc.  It just does not seem to me to be very efficient way to deal with the issue.

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