Monday, June 30, 2003

Frivolous lawsuits inhibit innovation

By Sen. Steve Stivers
Guest columnist

To be successful, we must make the case that Ohio has the characteristics businesses are looking for - these include: an educated workforce, a solid infrastructure and accessibility to major cities and ports for moving goods and services.

These are areas in which Ohio has traditionally been strong. However, with the increasingly litigious society in which we are living, the climate of our civil justice system has also become a major factor. While we must preserve the rights of those who have been injured by harmful behavior to seek remedies in the courtroom, more and more businesses and jobs are threatened by frivolous lawsuits, exorbitant and unpredictable jury awards, and ongoing liability.

Senate Bill 80, which has passed in the Senate, strikes the delicate balance we need to protect victims, while ensuring that frivolous lawsuits do not create more victims by clogging up our legal system; bankrupting companies and putting their employees out of work; driving up costs to consumers and discouraging innovation.

The number of civil lawsuits has been on the rise in Ohio since 2000, with nearly 33,000 lawsuits involving tort actions filed last year alone. SB 80 addresses this problem by clarifying the definition of frivolous suits and permitting judges to impose penalties for frivolous conduct on their own accord, rather than relying solely on plaintiffs' motions.

The bill also ensures that any party adversely affected by frivolous conduct may file a motion for an award of court costs, reasonable attorney's fees and other expenses incurred as part of the case.

Another area my bill seeks to address is the problem of uncertain verdicts. Current law leaves the door open for unlimited awards that could bankrupt a company and prevent others with similar claims from being compensated. Because there little consistency is the way damages are awarded, it is conceivable that two different juries, if given the same facts, could award damages that are tens of thousands of dollars apart.

To fix these inconsistencies, Senate Bill 80 sets reasonable standards for determining noneconomic loss in all tort actions. The bill caps noneconomic damages awards at up to $500,000 for each occurrence. However, if the plaintiff's injuries are permanent and substantial, noneconomic damage awards can be up to $1 million dollars for each occurrence.

Another inherent unfairness the bill corrects is the area of perpetual liability. For example, under today's standards, an architect working in Ohio faces liability for life on his designs, and could be sued even though someone else may have negligently maintained the property. The state of our current economy, the rising number of tort cases, and the fact that many other surrounding states have passed or are considering similar changes make now a pivotal time to bring balance and fairness back to our civil justice system by enacting these common sense reforms.


Steve Stivers is a Columbus Republican

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