Last summer I wrote about the dangers of judicial activism (which is normally an insult lobbed at any jurist who finds in favor of an individual over a corporation) and how the conservative judges who use it undermine the founding principles of our country. It’s a big deal. Today the Ohio Supreme Court came to the defense of the insurance industry and, in the process, disregarded the law as it was and had been for a long time.
The case is called Havel v. Villa St. Joseph it’s about a provision in a tort reform statute (thanks, General Assembly) which requires compensatory and punitive damages to be bifurcated (divided) for purposes of a trial. I know that does not sound like much, but it is; here is how. When an innocent person is injured by the negligence of another person (think: driver runs stop light) the innocent person is of course entitled to money for medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. Those are compensatory damages and insurance companies pay those verdicts. When an innocent person is injured by the careless and wanton actions of another person (think: drunk driver) then that innocent person is permitted to ask a jury for punitive damages in addition to compensatory damages. Punitive damages exist as punishment–as a means to deter whatever bad behavior caused the problem. Also, insurance companies do not have to pay for punitive damages
Under the law as it has been (forever), the judge got to decide whether a jury could hear both the compensatory and punitive damage claims together or whether they should be bifurcated. Lots of times the judge would let the jury hear both at the same time. Insurance companies did not like because juries tend to award more money for compensatory damages to people who are injured through wanton and careless actions that so the General Assembly re-wrote the law requiring that there be separate trials. Now, the innocent person has to pay for two trials and, in the one where the insurance company has to pay the verdict, the jury does not get to hear about what a bad actor the defendant was in causing the injuries.
In the end, this was a big win for the insurance companies who are experts at taking and investing your premiums and not quite so good (understatement) at paying the claims they are required to pay and another loss for the individuals and consumers of this state.