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In Case You Hadn’t Heard…Ohio Supreme Court upholds tort reform provision

by Rebekah Smith

On Wednesday, the Ohio Supreme Court upheld a state law that requires the courts to bifurcate tort lawsuits into separate proceedings, at the request of the defendant.  The proceeding is divided into two stages.  In the first stage, the defendant’s liability and compensatory damages are addressed.  In Stage 2, the jury decides whether to award punitive damages, and the amounts.  The case which was decided Wednesday, was a case involving a lawsuit for medical malpractice, wrongful death, and violation of the Ohio Nursing Home Patients Bill of Rights.

From a damages perspective, the ruling has a lesser impact on economic experts than it does on attorneys in their case management.  However, there are times where economic experts are called upon to provide testimony which might help a jury in determining punitive damages.  Keep in mind, economic experts never CALCULATE punitive damages.  Instead we are called upon to provide information to the jury which they may or may not consider in making their determination.  For example, an expert might be called upon to review financial statements, annual and quarterly reports, and other financial documents of the defendants, and then assist the attorney on the most effective way to present that information to the jury.

The ruling won’t impact the use of financial experts for punitive damages presentation; however, it might lengthen the time of involvement of an expert in the case.  Historically if an expert was going to present financial testimony for consideration when determining punitive damages, it could be done at the same time the expert was presenting their compensatory damages calculation. Now, with those parts of the trial bifurcated, the expert will have to return for additional testimony in the second phase.

Have you ever used a financial expert in requesting punitive damages?  What do you think of the ruling?

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