DAMAGE CAPS ON OHIO PERSONAL INJURY CLAIMS

04 December 2023
Richard Bush
DAMAGE CAPS ON OHIO PERSONAL INJURY CLAIMS

A person injured as a result of negligence, whether in a motor vehicle or other type of accident or as the result of a medical error, may suffer a wide variety of damages. Under Ohio law those can be categorized as economic or non-economic damages. Economic damages consist of monetary losses, such as lost wages, damage to property, and medical bills. Non-economic damages include items such as pain and suffering, disfigurement, loss of ability to engage in and enjoy usual activities, and emotional trauma. In many cases an injured person's non-economic loss is far more substantial than mere economic loss.

Many accident victims are surprised to learn that Ohio law places limitations or caps on the amount an injured party can receive in a jury award for non-economic damages. The rules and exceptions are complex and are different in medical negligence claims and claims for other ordinary negligence.

Ordinary negligence claims are governed by Ohio Revised Code 2315.18. In ordinary negligence claims the amount of non-economic damages that a victim can recover is the greater of $250,000 or three times the amount of economic damages up to a limit of $350,000 if there is one plaintiff or $500,000 per occurrence if more than one plaintiff claims damages as the result of an injury to any one person. Fortunately, there are exceptions in cases of catastrophic injuries which may include:

  • a permanent and substantial physical deformity;
  • loss of use of a limb;
  • loss of a bodily organ system; and
  • permanent physical functional injury that prevents the victim from being able to independently care for himself or herself and perform life-sustaining activities.

In an ordinary negligence claim, if one of these exceptions apply, there is no statutory limit on the amount the jury can award for non-economic damages.

The caps are even harsher in medical negligence claims, which are governed by Ohio Revised Code 2323.43. Like in ordinary negligence claims, the cap on non-economic damages is generally the greater of $250,000 or three times the economic loss up to a total of $350,000 for each plaintiff or $500,000 for each occurrence. Similar exceptions apply to such claims, except that the exceptions do not eliminate the cap in medical negligence claims. Instead, the exceptions allow for application of a higher cap of $500,000 for each plaintiff or $1,000,000 per occurrence. So, for example, a person who suffers permanent blindness as a result of a medical error cannot recover more than $500,000 for their catastrophic non-economic loss.

Further, Ohio jurors are kept in the dark about these caps, which are applied to limit an award of non-economic damages after the jury has already reached its verdict and determined the amount of economic and non-economic damages. In the above example, even if a neutral jury hearing all the facts awards the permanently blinded victim several million dollars of non-economic damages, the court must reduce that award to $500,000.

Many feel that such caps are not only fundamentally unfair, but also contrary to the constitutional right to a trial by jury. This is especially true since Ohio courts have always had the power, on a case-by-case basis, to reduce runaway jury verdicts. Unfortunately, the Ohio courts have generally upheld those damage cap statutes.

The case law interpreting and applying these caps is complex. An experienced personal injury attorney can fight to maximize a client's potential recovery of non-economic damages.

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