2006 Ohio Revised Code - 2315.21. Bifurcated trial on issues of compensatory and punitive or exemplary damages; when punitive or exemplary damages may be awarded; maximum amounts.

§ 2315.21. Bifurcated trial on issues of compensatory and punitive or exemplary damages; when punitive or exemplary damages may be awarded; maximum amounts.
 

(A)  As used in this section: 

(1) "Tort action" means a civil action for damages for injury or loss to person or property. "Tort action" includes a product liability claim for damages for injury or loss to person or property that is subject to sections 2307.71 to 2307.80 of the Revised Code, but does not include a civil action for damages for a breach of contract or another agreement between persons. 

(2) "Trier of fact" means the jury or, in a nonjury action, the court. 

(3) "Home" has the same meaning as in section 3721.10 of the Revised Code. 

(4) "Employer" includes, but is not limited to, a parent, subsidiary, affiliate, division, or department of the employer. If the employer is an individual, the individual shall be considered an employer under this section only if the subject of the tort action is related to the individual's capacity as an employer. 

(5) "Small employer" means an employer who employs not more than one hundred persons on a full-time permanent basis, or, if the employer is classified as being in the manufacturing sector by the North American industrial classification system, "small employer" means an employer who employs not more than five hundred persons on a full-time permanent basis. 

(B) (1)  In a tort action that is tried to a jury and in which a plaintiff makes a claim for compensatory damages and a claim for punitive or exemplary damages, upon the motion of any party, the trial of the tort action shall be bifurcated as follows: 

(a) The initial stage of the trial shall relate only to the presentation of evidence, and a determination by the jury, with respect to whether the plaintiff is entitled to recover compensatory damages for the injury or loss to person or property from the defendant. During this stage, no party to the tort action shall present, and the court shall not permit a party to present, evidence that relates solely to the issue of whether the plaintiff is entitled to recover punitive or exemplary damages for the injury or loss to person or property from the defendant. 

(b) If the jury determines in the initial stage of the trial that the plaintiff is entitled to recover compensatory damages for the injury or loss to person or property from the defendant, evidence may be presented in the second stage of the trial, and a determination by that jury shall be made, with respect to whether the plaintiff additionally is entitled to recover punitive or exemplary damages for the injury or loss to person or property from the defendant. 

(2) In a tort action that is tried to a jury and in which a plaintiff makes a claim for both compensatory damages and punitive or exemplary damages, the court shall instruct the jury to return, and the jury shall return, a general verdict and, if that verdict is in favor of the plaintiff, answers to an interrogatory that specifies the total compensatory damages recoverable by the plaintiff from each defendant. 

(3) In a tort action that is tried to a court and in which a plaintiff makes a claim for both compensatory damages and punitive or exemplary damages, the court shall make its determination with respect to whether the plaintiff is entitled to recover compensatory damages for the injury or loss to person or property from the defendant and, if that determination is in favor of the plaintiff, shall make findings of fact that specify the total compensatory damages recoverable by the plaintiff from the defendant. 

(C)  Subject to division (E) of this section, punitive or exemplary damages are not recoverable from a defendant in question in a tort action unless both of the following apply: 

(1) The actions or omissions of that defendant demonstrate malice or aggravated or egregious fraud, or that defendant as principal or master knowingly authorized, participated in, or ratified actions or omissions of an agent or servant that so demonstrate. 

(2) The trier of fact has returned a verdict or has made a determination pursuant to division (B)(2) or (3) of this section of the total compensatory damages recoverable by the plaintiff from that defendant. 

(D) (1)  In a tort action, the trier of fact shall determine the liability of any defendant for punitive or exemplary damages and the amount of those damages. 

(2) Except as provided in division (D)(6) of this section, all of the following apply regarding any award of punitive or exemplary damages in a tort action: 

(a) The court shall not enter judgment for punitive or exemplary damages in excess of two times the amount of the compensatory damages awarded to the plaintiff from that defendant, as determined pursuant to division (B)(2) or (3) of this section. 

(b) If the defendant is a small employer or individual, the court shall not enter judgment for punitive or exemplary damages in excess of the lesser of two times the amount of the compensatory damages awarded to the plaintiff from the defendant or ten percent of the employer's or individual's net worth when the tort was committed up to a maximum of three hundred fifty thousand dollars, as determined pursuant to division (B)(2) or (3) of this section. 

(c) Any attorneys fees awarded as a result of a claim for punitive or exemplary damages shall not be considered for purposes of determining the cap on punitive damages. 

(3) No award of prejudgment interest under division (C)(1) of section 1343.03 of the Revised Code shall include any prejudgment interest on punitive or exemplary damages found by the trier of fact. 

(4) In a tort action, the burden of proof shall be upon a plaintiff in question, by clear and convincing evidence, to establish that the plaintiff is entitled to recover punitive or exemplary damages. 

(5) (a) In any tort action, except as provided in division (D)(5)(b) or (6) of this section, punitive or exemplary damages shall not be awarded against a defendant if that defendant files with the court a certified judgment, judgment entries, or other evidence showing that punitive or exemplary damages have already been awarded and have been collected, in any state or federal court, against that defendant based on the same act or course of conduct that is alleged to have caused the injury or loss to person or property for which the plaintiff seeks compensatory damages and that the aggregate of those previous punitive or exemplary damage awards exceeds the maximum amount of punitive or exemplary damages that may be awarded under division (D)(2) of this section against that defendant in the tort action. 

(b) Notwithstanding division (D)(5)(a) of this section and except as provided in division (D)(6) of this section, punitive or exemplary damages may be awarded against a defendant in either of the following types of tort actions: 

(i) In subsequent tort actions involving the same act or course of conduct for which punitive or exemplary damages have already been awarded, if the court determines by clear and convincing evidence that the plaintiff will offer new and substantial evidence of previously undiscovered, additional behavior of a type described in division (C) of this section on the part of that defendant, other than the injury or loss for which the plaintiff seeks compensatory damages. In that case, the court shall make specific findings of fact in the record to support its conclusion. The court shall reduce the amount of any punitive or exemplary damages otherwise awardable pursuant to this section by the sum of the punitive or exemplary damages awards previously rendered against that defendant in any state or federal court. The court shall not inform the jury about the court's determination and action under division (D)(5)(b)(i) of this section. 

(ii) In subsequent tort actions involving the same act or course of conduct for which punitive or exemplary damages have already been awarded, if the court determines by clear and convincing evidence that the total amount of prior punitive or exemplary damages awards was totally insufficient to punish that defendant's behavior of a type described in division (C) of this section and to deter that defendant and others from similar behavior in the future. In that case, the court shall make specific findings of fact in the record to support its conclusion. The court shall reduce the amount of any punitive or exemplary damages otherwise awardable pursuant to this section by the sum of the punitive or exemplary damages awards previously rendered against that defendant in any state or federal court. The court shall not inform the jury about the court's determination and action under division (D)(5)(b)(ii) of this section. 

(6) Division (D)(2) of this section does not apply to a tort action where the alleged injury, death, or loss to person or property resulted from the defendant acting with one or more of the culpable mental states of purposely and knowingly as described in section 2901.22 of the Revised Code and when the defendant has been convicted of or pleaded guilty to a criminal offense that is a felony, that had as an element of the offense one or more of the culpable mental states of purposely and knowingly as described in that section, and that is the basis of the tort action. 

(E)  This section does not apply to tort actions against the state in the court of claims, including, but not limited to, tort actions against a state university or college that are subject to division (B)(1) of section 3345.40 of the Revised Code, to tort actions against political subdivisions of this state that are commenced under or are subject to Chapter 2744. of the Revised Code, or to the extent that another section of the Revised Code expressly provides any of the following: 

(1) Punitive or exemplary damages are recoverable from a defendant in question in a tort action on a basis other than that the actions or omissions of that defendant demonstrate malice or aggravated or egregious fraud or on a basis other than that the defendant in question as principal or master knowingly authorized, participated in, or ratified actions or omissions of an agent or servant that so demonstrate. 

(2) Punitive or exemplary damages are recoverable from a defendant in question in a tort action irrespective of whether the plaintiff in question has adduced proof of actual damages. 

(3) The burden of proof upon a plaintiff in question to recover punitive or exemplary damages from a defendant in question in a tort action is one other than clear and convincing evidence. 

(4) Punitive or exemplary damages are not recoverable from a defendant in question in a tort action. 

(F)  If the trier of fact is a jury, the court shall not instruct the jury with respect to the limits on punitive or exemplary damages pursuant to division (D) of this section, and neither counsel for any party or a witness shall inform the jury or potential jurors of those limits. 

(G)  When determining the amount of an award of punitive or exemplary damages against either a home or a residential facility licensed under section 5123.19 of the Revised Code, the trier of fact shall consider all of the following: 

(1) The ability of the home or residential facility to pay the award of punitive or exemplary damages based on the home's or residential facility's assets, income, and net worth; 

(2) Whether the amount of punitive or exemplary damages is sufficient to deter future tortious conduct; 

(3) The financial ability of the home or residential facility, both currently and in the future, to provide accommodations, personal care services, and skilled nursing care. 
 

HISTORY: 142 v H 1 (Eff 1-5-88); 146 v H 350 (Eff 1-27-97); 149 v S 108, § 2.01 (Eff 7-6-2001); 149 v H 412. Eff 11-7-2002; 150 v S 80, § 1, eff. 4-7-05.
 

The provisions of § 3(A) and (E) of S.B. 80 (150 v  - ) read as follows: 

SECTION 3. The General Assembly makes the following statement of findings and intent: 

(A) The General Assembly finds: 

(1) The current civil litigation system represents a challenge to the economy of the state of Ohio, which is dependent on business providing essential jobs and creative innovation. 

(2) The General Assembly recognizes that a fair system of civil justice strikes an essential balance between the rights of those who have been legitimately harmed and the rights of those who have been unfairly sued. 

(3) This state has a rational and legitimate state interest in making certain that Ohio has a fair, predictable system of civil justice that preserves the rights of those who have been harmed by negligent behavior, while curbing the number of frivolous lawsuits, which increases the cost of doing business, threatens Ohio jobs, drives up costs to consumers, and may stifle innovation. The General Assembly bases its findings on this state interest upon the following evidence: 

(a) A National Bureau of Economic Research study estimates that states that have adopted abuse reforms have experienced employment growth between eleven and twelve per cent, productivity growth of seven to eight per cent, and total output growth between ten and twenty per cent for liability reducing reforms. 

(b) According to a 2002 study from the White House Council of Economic Advisors, the cost of tort litigation is equal to a two and one tenth per cent wage and salary tax, a one and three tenth per cent tax on personal consumption, and a three and one tenth per cent tax on capital investment income. 

(c) The 2003 Harris Poll of nine hundred and twenty-eight senior corporate attorneys conducted by the United States Chamber of Commerce's Institute for Legal Reform reports that eight out of ten respondents claim that the litigation environment in a state could affect important business decisions about their company, such as where to locate or do business. In addition, one in four senior attorneys surveyed cited limits on damages as one specific means for state policy makers to improve the litigation environment in their state and promote economic development. 

(d) The cost of the United States tort system grew at a record rate in 2001, according to a February 2003 study published by Tillinghast-Towers Perrin. The system, however, failed to return even fifty cents for every dollar to people who were injured. Tillinghast-Towers Perrin also found that fifty-four per cent of the total cost accounted for attorney's fees, both for plaintiffs and defendants, and administration. Only twenty-two per cent of the tort system's cost was used directly to reimburse people for the economic damages associated with injuries and losses they sustain. 

(e) The Tillinghast-Towers Perrin study also found that the cost of the United States tort system grew fourteen and three tenths of a per cent in 2001, the highest increase since 1986, greatly exceeding overall economic growth of two and six tenth per cent. As a result, the cost of the United States tort system rose to two hundred and five billion dollars total or seven hundred and twenty-one dollars per citizen, equal to a five per cent tax on wages. 

(f) As stated in testimony by Ohio Department of Development Director Bruce Johnson, as a percentage of the gross domestic product, United States tort costs have grown from six tenths of a per cent to two per cent since 1950, about double the percentage that other industrialized nations pay annually. These tort costs put Ohio businesses at a disadvantage vis-a-vis foreign competition and are not helpful to development. 

(4)(a) Reform to the punitive damages law in Ohio is urgently needed to restore balance, fairness, and predictability to the civil justice system. 

(b) In prohibiting a court from entering judgment for punitive or exemplary damages in excess of the two times the amount of compensatory damages awarded to the plaintiff and, with respect to an individual or small employer that employs not more than one hundred persons or if the employer is classified as being in the manufacturing sector not more than five hundred persons, from entering judgment for punitive or exemplary damages in excess of the lesser of two times the amount of compensatory damages awarded to the plaintiff or ten per cent of the individual's or employer's net worth when the tort was committed up to a maximum of three hundred fifty thousand dollars, the General Assembly finds the following: 

(i) Punitive or exemplary damages awarded in tort actions are similar in nature to fines and additional court costs imposed in criminal actions, because punitive or exemplary damages, fines, and additional court costs are designed to punish a tortfeasor for certain wrongful actions or omissions. 

(ii) The absence of a statutory ceiling upon recoverable punitive or exemplary damages in tort actions has resulted in occasional multiple awards of punitive or exemplary damages that have no rational connection to the wrongful actions or omissions of the tortfeasor. 

(iii) The distinction between small employers and other defendants based on the number of full-time permanent employees distinguishes all other defendants including individuals and nonemployers. This distinction is rationally based on size considering both the economic capacity of an employer to maintain that number of employees and to impact the community at large, as exemplified by the North American Industry Classification System and the United States Small Business Administration's Office of Advocacy. 

(c) The limits on punitive or exemplary damages as specified in section 2315.21 of the Revised Code, as amended by this act, are based on guidance recently provided by the United States Supreme Court in State Farm Mutual Insurance v. Campbell(2003), 123 S.Ct. 1513. In determining whether a one hundred and forty-five million dollar award of punitive damages was appropriate, the United States Supreme Court referred to the three guideposts for punitive damages articulated in BMW of North America Inc. v. Gore(1996), 517 U.S. 599: (1) the degree of reprehensibility of the defendant's misconduct; (2) the disparity between the actual or potential harm suffered by the plaintiff and the punitive damages awarded; and (3) the difference between the punitive damages awarded by the jury and the civil penalties authorized or imposed in comparable cases. According to the United States Supreme Court, "few awards exceeding a single digit ratio between punitive damages and compensatory damages... will satisfy due process." Id.at 31. 

(d) The limits on punitive or exemplary damages as specified in section 2315.21 of the Revised Code, as amended by this act, are based on testimony asking members of the General Assembly to recognize the economic impact of occasional multiple punitive damages awards and stating that a number of other states have imposed limits on punitive or exemplary damage awards. 

(5)(a) Statutes of repose are vital instruments that provide time limits, closure, and peace of mind to potential parties of lawsuits. 

(b) Forty-seven other states have adopted statutes of repose to protect architects, engineers, and constructors of improvements to real property from lawsuits arising after a specific number of years after completion of an improvement to real property. The General Assembly recognizes that Kentucky, New York, and Ohio are the only three states that do not have a statute of repose. The General Assembly also acknowledges that Ohio stands by itself, due to the fact that both Kentucky and New York have a rebuttable presumption that exists and only if a plaintiff can overcome that presumption can a claim continue. 

(c) As stated in testimony by Jack Pottmeyer, architect and managing principal of MKC Associates, Inc., this unlimited liability forces professionals to maintain records in perpetuity, because those professionals cannot reasonably predict when a record from fifteen or twenty years earlier may become the subject of a civil action. Those actions occur despite the fact that, over the course of many years, owners of the property or those responsible for its maintenance could make modifications or other substantial changes that would significantly change the intent or scope of the original design of the property designed by an architectural firm. The problem is compounded by the fact that professional liability insurance for architects and engineers is offered by relatively few insurance carriers and is written on what is known as a "claims made basis," meaning a policy must be in effect when the claim is made, not at the time of the service, in order for the claim to be paid. Without a statute of repose, professional liability insurance must be maintained forever to ensure coverage of any potential claim on previous services. These minimum annual premiums can add up, averaging between three thousand five hundred dollars and five thousand dollars annually, which is especially burdensome for a retired design professional. 

(6)(a) Noneconomic damages include such things as pain and suffering, emotional distress, and loss of consortium or companionship, which do not involve an economic loss and have, therefore, no precise economic value. Punitive damages are intended to punish a defendant for wrongful conduct. Pain and suffering awards are distinct from punitive damages. Pain and suffering awards are intended to compensate a person for the person's loss. They are not intended to punish a defendant for wrongful conduct. 

(b) The judicial analysis of compensatory damages representing noneconomic loss, as specified in section 2315.19 of the Revised Code, are based on testimony asking members of the General Assembly to recognize these distinctions. 

(c) With respect to noneconomic loss for either: (1) permanent and substantial physical deformity, loss of use of a limb, or loss of a bodily organ system; or (2) permanent physical functional injury that permanently prevents the injured person from being able to independently care for self and perform life-sustaining activities, the General Assembly recognizes that evidence that juries may consider in awarding pain and suffering damages for these types of injuries is different from evidence courts may consider for punitive damages. For example, the amount of a plaintiff's pain and suffering is not relevant to a decision on wrongdoing, and the degree of the defendant's wrongdoing is not relevant to the amount of pain and suffering. 

(d) While pain and suffering awards are inherently subjective, it is believed that this inflation of noneconomic damages is partially due to the improper consideration of evidence of wrongdoing in assessing pain and suffering damages. 

(e) Inflated damage awards create an improper resolution of civil justice claims. The increased and improper cost of litigation and resulting rise in insurance premiums is passed on to the general public through higher prices for products and services. 

(f) Therefore, with respect to the types of injuries articulated in division (A)(6)(c) of this section, the General Assembly finds that courts should provide juries with clear instructions about the purpose of pain and suffering damages. Courts should instruct juries that evidence of misconduct is not to be considered in deciding compensation for noneconomic damages for those types of injuries. Rather, it is to be considered solely for the purpose of deciding punitive damage awards. 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 inappropriately 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. 

(7)(a) The collateral source rule prohibits a defendant from introducing evidence that the plaintiff received any benefits from sources outside the dispute. 

(b) Twenty-one states have modified or abolished the collateral source rule. 

* * * 

(E) The Ohio General Assembly respectfully requests the Ohio Supreme Court to uphold this intent in the courts of Ohio, to reconsider its holding on damage caps in State v. Sheward(1999), Ohio St. 3d 451, to reconsider its holding on the deductibility of collateral source benefits in Sorrel v. Thevenir(1994), 69 Ohio St. 3d 415, and to reconsider its holding on statutes of repose in Brennaman v. R.M.I. Co.(1994), 70 Ohio St. 3d 460. 

Not analogous to former RC § 2315.21 (GC § 11421-1a; 120 v 707; Bureau of Code Revision, 10-1-53), repealed 133 v H 1201, § 1, eff 7-1-71.

See provisions, § 4 of HB 412 (149 v  - ) following RC § 2305.11. 

 

Effect of Amendments

150 v S 80, effective April 7, 2005, rewrote the section. 

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