Thursday, December 27, 2007

Ohio Tort Reform Decision

The Ohio Supreme Court today announced its decision in the Arbino case. Readers of this blog will know of my interest in that case, which deals with caps on non-economic and punitive damages in tort cases in Ohio. The court held that the statute was constitutional.

I have not yet analyzed the full opinion, which I plan to do over the weekend, but in reading it today one thing stood out. A majority of the court (five of the seven) appears to hold that the right to a trial by jury is not a fundamental right in Ohio, at least as applied to civil cases.


It strikes me as amazing that five judges could sign off on something as outrageous as that. As pointed out in the dissent, the right to a trial by jury is so enshrined in the law that it is actually mentioned in the Declaration of Independence as being one of the reasons why we broke away from England. We couldn't abide by King George's abrogation of the right to trial by jury in some cases. How can that not be a fundamental right?

Since the court held that a fundamental right was not implicated, the statute was analyzed only under rational basis instead of strict scrutiny. The dissent thought it was unconstitutional under either analysis, but the majority says that the statute is rationally related to a legitimate state interest (that interest was stated as being bringing new businesses to Ohio and keeping businesses that are there) and is, therefore, constitutional.

I will undoubtedly post more, together with a link to the decision, after I take the time to digest it further.


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