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Published: Thursday, 6/12/2003

Senate again OKs bill to curb jury awards

BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU

COLUMBUS - The Ohio Senate voted 19-13 yesterday to try again to enact limits on how much juries may award plaintiffs for pain and suffering in personal injury and other lawsuits.

The measure, passed entirely on the backs of Republicans, now goes to the House.

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Steve Stivers (R., Columbus), argued that reform is necessary to inject predictability into the civil justice system.

Opponents, mostly Democrats, countered that the bill overreacts to horror stories in other states of runaway juries without establishing that a similar problem exists here.

The Ohio Supreme Court has struck down three prior attempts as unconstitutional. The GOP hopes that the election of Republican Justice Maureen O'Connor to the court last fall has changed the landscape enough to allow the latest version to survive.

While the bill follows a number of other states in capping jury awards and establishing time limits for suits, it would make Ohio the first to enact medical standards for someone filing asbestos claims against manufacturers and employers.

The bill would cap how much plaintiffs may collect for pain and suffering, mental anguish, and other intangible, noneconomic damages at $500,000 in the most severe cases, those involving loss of limb or permanent disfigurement.

The injured person's family, if there is one, could collect another $500,000 for a total cap of $1 million for the incident.

In less serious cases, the caps would be $350,000 for the plaintiff and $150,000 for his family, for a total cap of $500,000.

Two Republicans joined all 11 Democrats in voting against the bill. In northwest Ohio, the sole negative vote belonged to Sen. Teresa Fedor (D., Toledo).

The bill would also:

w Set no limits on economic damages, those awarded to compensate for loss of wages and medical expenses.

w Cap punitive damages, those designed to punish the defendant rather than compensate the plaintiff, at $100,000 or the equivalent of the economic damages, whichever is greater. For small businesses with fewer than 500 employees, the award would be the lesser of the two.

w Exempt those convicted of drunken driving and certain sex offenses from the cap on punitive damages.

w Set a limit in product liability and construction cases of 10 years.

- JIM PROVANCE



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