The Supreme Court of Ohio Upholds Cap on Non-Economic and Punitive Damages

December 31, 2007

On December 27, 2007, the Supreme Court of Ohio upheld two tort reform statutes enacted in 2004.  In Arbino v. Johnson & Johnson, the Court ruled that legislation capping the non-economic damages that may be awarded to personal injury plaintiffs is constitutional.  The Court also ruled that legislation limiting the amount of punitive damages that may be awarded to an injured plaintiff in certain tort actions is constitutional.

The two tort reform statutes that were challenged by the plaintiff in Arbino and ultimately upheld by the Supreme Court of Ohio, were enacted by the Ohio General Assembly in an effort to reduce “the uncertainty associated with the existing tort system and the negative consequences resulting from it.”  The first statute, R.C. 2315.18, limits the amount of recovery for non-economic damages, which are intangible injuries such as damages for pain and suffering or mental anguish, to “the greater of (1) $250,000 or (2) three times the economic damages up to a maximum of $350,000.”  These limits on non-economic damages, however, do not apply if the plaintiff suffered “[p]ermanent and substantial physical deformity, loss of use of a limb, or loss of a bodily organ system,” or “[p]ermanent physical functional injury that permanently prevents the injured person from being able to independently care for self and perform life-sustaining activities.”  The other statute, R.C. 2315.21, “limits punitive damages in tort actions to a maximum of two times the total amount of compensatory damages awarded to a plaintiff per defendant.”

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