(COLUMBUS, Ohio)—The Ohio Supreme Court upheld a state law requiring courts to “bifurcate” tort lawsuits into separate proceedings. The General Assembly enacted this provision in 2005 to restore balance, fairness, and predictability in Ohio’s civil justice system.
In civil cases, plaintiffs often seek compensatory damages and punitive damages from a defendant. Compensatory damages compensate the plaintiff for any actual loss or injury, such as medical bills and lost wages. A jury may also award additional money—or “punitive damages”—to punish the defendant for his misconduct.
The General Assembly reformed this process in 2005. At the request of a defendant, a trial court must divide the case into two stages. At the first stage, the jury determines the defendant’s liability and awards compensatory damages. Then, at a second stage, the jury decides whether to award punitive damages. This “bifurcation” process allows juries to determine a defendant’s liability before reaching the question of punitive damages.
A plaintiff challenged this requirement, claiming that only the Ohio Supreme Court had authority to enact procedural rules governing trials.
Attorney General DeWine defended the legislature’s decision and participated in the case and oral argument as an amicus: “The General Assembly enacted this law to ensure that civil defendants had substantial protection from unjust verdicts,” DeWine said. “I am pleased that the Ohio Supreme Court has upheld this provision that brings more predictability to our civil justice system.”
The Ohio Supreme Court, by a 5-2 vote, sided with Attorney General DeWine and upheld the statute.
This reform “creates, defines, and regulates a substantive, enforceable right to separate stages of trial relating to the presentation of evidence,” said Justice Terrence O’Donnell, writing for the Court. “The General Assembly demonstrate[d] its intent to create a substantive right to ensure that evidence of misconduct is not inappropriately considered by the jury in its assessment of liability and its award of compensatory damages.”
Lisa Hackley: 614-466-3840
Dan Tierney: 614-466-3840