“Tort Reform” Legislation Unconstitutional

“Tort Reform” Legislation Unconstitutional

Posted: August, 1999

State. ex rel. Ohio Academy of Trial Lawyers v. Sheward (8/16/99), 86 Ohio St.3d 451.

The Supreme Court declared Amended Substitute House Bill 350 unconstitutional in its entirety in Ohio Academy of Trial Lawyers, et al. v. Sheward, et al., Supreme Court Case No. 97-2419.

The Supreme Court’s 4-3 decision issued in a case filed on November 20, 1997 by the Ohio Academy of Trial Lawyers and the Ohio AFL-CIO.

The Ohio Supreme Court’s decision declared unconstitutional a number of legislative provisions harmful to injured Ohioans, including:

1. A variety of limitations on damages, including a cap on punitive damages, which limited the recovery available to injured Ohioans for the harm done to them;

2. Imposed time limitations on the right to bring a lawsuit for harm done to a person even though the harm has not been discovered;

3. Restrictions which made it more difficult to bring a medical, dental, optometric, chiropractic, or malpractice claim.

In its decision, written by Justice Resnick, the Supreme Court recognized the harm caused to the citizens of this state by the provisions of H.B. 350 and stated that:

there can be no doubt that the issues sought to be litigated in this case are of such a high order of public concern as to justify allowing this action. . .

The Supreme Court declared H.B. 350 unconstitutional for two reasons.

First, the Supreme Court found that the legislature had violated the constitutional “separation of powers.” The legislature, in enacting H.B. 350, attempted to take for itself the authority of the Ohio Supreme Court. The Supreme Court found that in H.B. 350 the legislature had

boldly seized the power of constitutional adjudication, appropriated the authority to establish rules of court and overrule judicial declarations of unconstitutionality . . .

Because the Ohio Constitution places those duties and responsibilities in the Ohio Supreme Court, the Supreme Court found that H.B. 350 violated separation of powers.

The Supreme Court also found H.B. 350 unconstitutional because it violated the “one-subject rule” provision contained in Article II, Section 15(D) of the Ohio Constitution. Ohio Constitution Article II, Section 15(D) provides:

[n]o bill shall contain more than one subject, which shall be clearly expressed in its title.

In H.B. 350, the legislature addressed “over one hundred different sections of the Revised Code.” The Supreme Court found that “any suggestion of unity of subject matter is illusory” and declared H.B. 350 unconstitutional in its entirety because the provisions of H.B. 350 are “blatantly unrelated.”

The Court concluded by noting that

it has become distressingly obvious that Am.Sub.H.B. No. 350 was passed with disregard for the constraints imposed by the Ohio Constitution to curb legislative excesses.

The provisions of Am. Sub. H.B. 350 which the Court declared unconstitutional would have limited, and in some cases eliminated, the recovery available to injured Ohioans from those who caused them harm.

Information courtesy of the Ohio Workers’ Compensation Bulletin. Subscribe to the Ohio Workers’ Compensation Bulletin to keep informed about the Ohio workers’ compensation system.