May 24, 2016


State high court upholds damage caps

CINCINNATI — The Ohio Supreme Court upheld a state law Thursday that limits how much a person injured by a defective product can collect in pain-and-suffering damages, reversing its stance on a closely watched issue.

Attorneys representing injured people and companies that support the concept of such caps have followed the lawsuit filed by Melisa Arbino, a Cincinnati property manager, over the Ortho Evra Birth Control Patch made by New Brunswick, N.J.-based Johnson & Johnson.

Arbino contended the product caused her permanent physical damage and threatened her ability to have children, and her lawyer argued that limits on damages were unconstitutional.

“We feel it’s a really tragic day in Ohio history,” attorney Janet Abaray said of the ruling. “People have to stand up and fight for their rights. If people don’t care and don’t take action and assert their rights, we’re not going to have a constitution left.”

The majority opinion in the 5-2 ruling, written by Chief Justice Thomas J. Moyer, said the Ohio law as revised did not violate the constitutional rights of injured parties to trial by jury, to a remedy for their injuries or to due process and equal protection.

“The decision in this case affirms the General Assembly’s efforts over the last several decades to enact meaningful tort reforms,” Moyer wrote.

In one of its challenged provisions, the law caps awards at $250,000 or three times the amount of economic damages, whichever is greater, up to an absolute limit of $350,000. The exception is when a plaintiff suffers permanent disability or loss of a limb or bodily organ system.

In another, the law prohibits awards for punitive damages exceeding two times the amount of the compensatory damages awarded the same defendant.

“I thought it was a very thoughtful decision, and I’m happy,” said Irene Keyse-Walker, an attorney for Johnson & Johnson.

The court threw out a similar law in 1999 in a decision that prompted businesses to criticize Democratic justices who voted against the legislation. Since then, the court has become an all-Republican bench. In the 1999 vote, two Republicans joined the court’s two Democrats in striking down the law, which was revised in 2004.